The American public-school system is already largely segregated by race, class and outcomes, and expert say that trend is likely to get worse.
Research also suggests that mothers aren’t just reducing their hours, they’re leaving their jobs to cope. Among women who said they were not working due to the pandemic, more than 16% said it was because they had to care for children not in school or daycare, according to a research brief from Syracuse University’s Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion. That’s compared to less than 5% of men.
Historically, these kinds of breaks have been costly to womens’ future earnings and careers. Women who leave the workforce face a 7% drop in earnings when they return, according to a 2018 study by PayScale, the salary data company.
“When women off-ramp, when they off-ramp for even just a short period of time to care for a family member or to care for a child, it really impacts their earnings, their long-term earnings, and their career mobility and advancement,” said C. Nicole Mason, the chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank.
A number of historical and societal factors explain why women bear the brunt of child care responsibilities, Mason said, including that our workplace system still largely assumes the average family has a man making money and a woman taking responsibility for the home, even though that’s largely not the case.
“We see care and responsibilities of care as an individual problem for women to solve or for families to solve on their own, not as a universal problem,” she said. “It’s been left up to families to figure out, if you can’t figure out care, I guess you can’t work or I guess you have to off-ramp.”
If we don’t come up with a broader solution, fast, it could have particularly devastating consequences for women who are their family’s primary breadwinners — a group that is disproportionately Black. About 41% of moms overall are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, according to a 2019 analysis from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. That’s true of 84% of Black mothers.