This article is part of a week-long series for IWPR’s signature Status of Women in the States initiative. The work featured in this series highlights the various ways the pandemic and related economic crisis are impacting women and their families at the state level. This project builds on IWPR’s recent economic recovery report that details the extent to which women, and particularly women of color, have shouldered the greatest burden of the economic crisis, and also proposes a slate of bold policies to ensure a gender-equitable recovery. The pieces included in this series provide a snapshot of what women are experiencing in states across the nation, and highlight the urgent need for federal funding for states and localities.
Over the past ten months, the collapse of our child care sector has taken a heavy toll on women’s employment, as women shouldered the lion’s share of caregiving and unpaid labor in the home even before the pandemic hit.
Before COVID-19, women in the United States spent 37 percent more time on household and care work than men, and Black and Latina women spent considerably more time on care work than both their male counterparts and White women. Even women working full time outside of the home were still responsible for the majority of caretaking duties in the home. The estimated value of women’s unpaid labor in the United States is $10.8 trillion each year.
Women’s caregiving burdens have increased markedly during the pandemic as many schools and child care centers remain closed without any certainty about if and when they will reopen. The Household Pulse Survey data shows the impact on women varies greatly across the states depending on the state’s response to the pandemic. The share of women who report living with a child who is now distance learning ranges from a low of 1 in 4 women in Wyoming to a high of 9 in 10 women in Washington, DC.
In the majority of states, more than half of women report living with a child who is now distance learning. The only states with fewer than 50 percent of women are Wyoming (25 percent), South Dakota (31 percent), Montana (38 percent), Nebraska (41 percent), Arkansas (45 percent), Louisiana (47 percent), and Iowa and Mississippi (both 48 percent). The states/localities with the largest share of women living with at least one child who is distance learning are: DC (91 percent), Oregon (85 percent), Washington (83 percent), California (82 percent), Maryland (81 percent), Hawaii (79 percent), Arizona (76 percent), and Delaware and New Mexico (both 74 percent).
Distance learning—while a necessity to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and well-being of all Americans—has pushed women to make impossible choices, balancing their work demands with the additional care burdens. This shift to at-home learning disproportionately impacts Black and Latina women, as they are less likely to have the ability to work from home because of their overrepresentation in low-wage sectors that are the least likely to offer remote work arrangements. Only 8 percent of workers employed in service occupations and 13 percent of all workers in leisure and hospitality have the ability to work from home. That is a sharp contrast to the 64 percent of workers in professional and related occupations, and more than 86 percent of workers in management, business, and financial occupations who were able to work remotely. Black workers are the least able to work remotely (39.5 percent), followed by Latino workers (28.9 percent). White non-Hispanic workers are the most likely to have the ability to telework.
We have a clear picture of the extraordinary toll the pandemic, the economic crisis, and the collapse of our already fragile childcare system have taken on women. We must immediately invest in solutions that allow women to fully care for their families while they are out of work: extended and expanded unemployment insurance, economic impact payments, funding to prevent the childcare sector from further collapse, and funding for states and localities. Now is the time to invest boldly in a care infrastructure that enables women to care for their families and to re-enter and remain in the workforce. Without doing so, there is no path to a gender equitable recovery.