Hexbyte Glen Cove School closures 'sideline' working mothers thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove School closures ‘sideline’ working mothers

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Decades of feminist gains in the workforce have been undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended public education across the United States, a critical infrastructure of care that parents—especially mothers—depend on to work, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

The research, published in Gender & Society, draws on new data from the Elementary School Operating Status (ESOS) database to show that the gender gap between mothers and fathers in the force has grown significantly since the onset of the pandemic in states where schools primarily offered remote instruction.

And if these circumstances continue, it could deliver a long-lasting blow to mothers’ lifetime earnings and occupational trajectories.

At the start of the 2019-20 school year, U.S. mothers’ rate of labor participation was, on average, 18 percentage points less than fathers’. By last September, the gap grew to over 23 percentage points in states where schools primarily offered remote instruction. In comparison, in states where in-person instruction was most common, the gender gap in parents’ labor force participation grew by less than 1 percentage point, to 18.4%.

“Our research shows schools are a vital source of care for young children, and without full-time, in-person instruction, mothers have been sidelined from the labor force,” said Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences and co-author of the study.

“The longer these conditions remain in place, the more difficult it may be for mothers to fully recover from prolonged spells of non-employment, resulting in reduced occupational opportunities and lifetime earnings.”

As the pandemic continues into the spring, states with significantly curtailed in-person learning will likely continue to see low maternal labor force participation with the potential for devastating, long-term employment effects for many women with children, Collins added.

How do school reopening plans impact working parents?

While the primary function of schools is children’s education, they also provide an expansive infrastructure of care—especially for elementary school-age children—that parents, businesses and the economy rely upon, Collins said. COVID-19 has strained that infrastructure in unprecedented ways.

States have varied considerably in their approaches to slow the virus’ spread and reopen schools, resulting in a patchwork structure of K-12 education across the United States.

Collins and co-authors—Liana Christin Landivar at the Maryland Population Research Center; Leah Ruppanner at the University of Melbourne; and William Scarborough at the University of North Texas—wanted to understand the nature and magnitude of school closures across states.

They used the ESOS database to measure the percentage of school districts offering in-person, remote and hybrid instruction models for elementary schools by state in September 2020. Then, they linked the data to the Current Population Survey to evaluate the association between school reopenings and parents’ labor force participation rates, comparing such 2020 rates with those observed pre-pandemic in 2019.

In the paper, the authors describe results from the 26 states currently available in ESOS, and highlight three states as illustrative examples of the consequences of various reopening statuses.

Their findings illustrate the critical role schools play not only in supporting children’s well-being, but also enabling parents, especially mothers, to maintain employment. Absent fathers’ equal participation at home, mothers bear the brunt of responsibility for childrearing, both before and during the pandemic, according to Collins.

Maryland—where schools across the state primarily opened remotely in 2020—experienced the largest drop in mothers’ labor force participation. In 2019, Maryland mothers with elementary-age children had a 90% predicted probability of being in the labor force. When schools opened in 2020, that probability dropped to 74%, representing a 16-point drop. In comparison, Maryland fathers’ predicted probability of labor force participation dropped by 5 percentage points, from 92% to 87% – a statistically insignificant change, the authors wrote.

Just 200 miles away, New York took a different approach: Nearly half of the elementary schools in the state offered hybrid programs consisting of a mix of remote and in-person education. Researchers found that mothers’ labor force participation in New York declined by 7 percentage points, from 79% to 72%. Fathers’ labor force participation dropped by 4 percentage points, from 96% to 92%. Neither of these drops was statistically significant.

Finally, in Texas—where more than half of school districts offered full-time, in-person education for elementary students—mothers’ labor force participation dropped by 10 percentage points, from 77% to 67%, and fathers’ from 96% to 93%. While this was a larger shift than observed in New York, it was still substantially smaller than the changes observed in Maryland.

Across all states, mothers’ work attachment fell to a greater extent than fathers’, but the gap is widest in states, like Maryland, where schooling was fully remote at the start of the school year.

Upon completion in spring 2021, the ESOS database will be made publicly available via the Open Science Framework, offering the reopening status of all elementary school districts in the country serving more than 500 students, or approximately 9,000 school districts.

‘Something had to give’

One in three U.S. women who left employment since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic cite childcare demands as a primary reason for their departure. Perhaps that’s not surprising, though. Preliminary evidence suggests that gender inequality in the domestic division of labor worsened under the pandemic, Collins said.

Collins, Landivar, Ruppanner and Scarborough have been studying the impact of the pandemic on mothers’ paid work since the first shutdowns in March 2020. Their early analysis found that mothers were more likely to reduce their work hours or exit the labor force altogether—even when both parents were able to telecommute. They suggest this is likely because mothers picked up a larger share of housework, childcare and homeschooling than fathers.

“Mothers have also reported greater increases in anxiety, depression and disturbed sleep compared to fathers, especially after experiencing a job loss or an increased housework or childcare load,” said Ruppanner, associate professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne.

“Without more support from fathers, employers and the government, something had to give under this unsustainable pressure. What seems to be giving is mothers’ employment,” Collins said.

The fallout will last well beyond the pandemicWhen mothers are forced to choose between their families and jobs, it impacts not only their immediate financial stability, but also their psychological well-being, economic independence and lifetime occupational attainment and earnings.

As the current research illustrates, mothers have paid the price of the childcare crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is an injustice with long-term consequences for mothers’ job prospects and economic stability,” the researchers wrote.

“These are not personal problems, but deeply political issues that require policy interventions. Well-funded and evidence-based reopening plans are necessary to allow children to return to face-to-face, and to allow parents to engage in paid work.

“Now, more than ever, it is crucial that federal and state governments invest in expanding the public care infrastructure for children o

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Business closures, partial reopenings due to COVID-19 could cost the US $3-5 trillion in GDP over 2 years thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Business closures, partial reopenings due to COVID-19 could cost the US $3-5 trillion in GDP over 2 years

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The COVID-19 pandemic could result in net losses from $3.2 trillion and up to $4.8 trillion in U.S. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the course of two years, a new USC study finds.

The pandemic’s economic impact depends on factors such as the duration and extent of the business closures, the gradual reopening process, infection rates and fatalities, avoiding public places, and pent-up consumer demand, according to the research by the USC Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE).

Real GDP is a measure, adjusted for inflation, that reflects the value and the quantity of final goods and services produced by a nation’s economy in a given year.

“In a best-case scenario, we would see containment measures, such as masks and social distancing become more widespread, and possibly even a vaccine by next year, and then businesses and institutions would be able to reopen at an accelerated pace,” said Adam Rose, study team leader who is the director of CREATE and a research professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“But in a worst-case scenario, these countermeasures wouldn’t materialize, and reopenings would happen slowly, particularly because we would continue to see waves of infection,” he said. Then, more people would likely lose their jobs, and the impacts of this disaster would continue to mount.”

The researchers found that the mandatory closures and partial reopenings alone could result in a 22% loss of U.S. GDP in just one year and an even greater loss of GDP over two years. Other key factors, though, will influence how disastrous the losses may be, they noted.

The research team noted that China has not sustained such losses due to aggressive containment measures resulting in a shorter lockdown period. They project that in a worst-case scenario, the U.S. GDP loss due to COVID will more than quadruple that of China.

The study was published on Nov. 30 in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change.

In early March, several states responded to a rise in COVID-19 cases by ordering the closures of non-essential businesses such as restaurants, bars, salons and retail stores. Many also halted or reduced public services to limit the spread.

Researchers at CREATE who are experts on modeling economic consequences of disasters analyzed the potential in three scenarios ranging from moderate to disastrous.

Using a computerized , the researchers accounted for these other factors in the three scenarios. They varied the decline in the workforce due to workers becoming sick with or dying of the virus, workers adopting new behaviors like staying home to avoid infection, increased demand for COVID healthcare, potential resilience through telework, increased demand for communication services, and increased pent-up .

The researchers conducted a synthesis of the literature of projections on the severity and possible duration of the pandemic. For the scenarios, which span from March 2020 through February 2022, this compilation of findings indicated that the number of COVID-related deaths in the United States could range from more than 300,000 to, in a worst-case scenario, 1.75 million.

Anywhere from 365,000 to as many as 2.5 million COVID patients could end up in the ICU, while another 860,000 to nearly 6 million patients may be hospitalized but not treated in the ICU. The projected number of people who will be treated for COVID as outpatients may vary from about 2.6 million to 18 million.

Among other highlights of the study, the researchers projected:

  • 54 million to 367 million work days would be lost due to people getting sick or die from COVID
  • 2 million to nearly 15 million work days would be lost due to employees staying home to care for sick loved ones.
  • Job losses could range from 14.7% to 23.8%, and in the worst case affect an estimated 36.5 million workers.
  • Demand for health care has risen with COVID infections. Medical expenses due to COVID-19 from March 2020 to February 2022 could range from nearly $32 billion to $216 billion.
  • A loss in demand for some services—such as the use of public transit and school attendance, restaurant dining and travel—as people avoid and services to reduce their risk of exposure.
  • An uptick in demand for communication services, as many employees during this pandemic have had to work from home.

An increase in pent-up demand will arise since consumers are unable to spend money on big-ticket items such as cars, as well as on travel, restaurants, hotels, merchandise, fitness, sporting events and concerts during the closures, and, to a lesser extent, during the phased reopenings.

While the researchers have found that the mandatory closures and re-openings are the most influential factor in the economy’s decline, consumer avoidance behavior also has a significant effect.

For the study, the researchers assumed that various people avoided work, did not attend in-person classes at schools, and stopped going to restaurants, activities and social gatherings to reduce their risk of infection.

“Because people have had to avoid activities, this has had a significant impact on economic losses,” said Dan Wei, a CREATE research fellow and research associate professor at the USC Price School for Public Policy. “Based on our model, we estimate that avoidance behavior can result in nearly $900 billion losses in U.S. GDP in the . Because consumers in places like California can’t engage in many activities like eating inside a restaurant, they are saving their money.”

The economic losses from closures and avoidance behavior could be partly offset by increased consumer spending after reopening, the researchers said.

“Pent-up demand is one of the most influential factors for the economy in this pandemic. While the mandatory closures and partial reopenings drive most of the economic decline, the extent to which pent-up demand leads to an increase in consumption after reopening, can be crucial to the economic recovery,” said Terrie Walmsley, a USC CREATE research fellow and an adjunct assistant professor of practice in economics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“The key question is: When will we see a complete reopening across this country? We simply cannot predict that, especially in light of the fact that we have not gained control of the spread of the disease,” Rose said.


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