By Samantha Bader, Co-President
What happens when a pandemic closes schools, daycares, and nurseries with little to no advance notice for families? It causes a mass exodus of women from the workforce. Rates of employed women are falling fast, signalling yet another massive problem in the world’s desire to stabilize the global economy.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, it is working mothers with children who have been disproportionately leaving their jobs or being laid off. In the United States, roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men dropped out of the workforce in September of 2020. Canada found itself struggling with the same problem, as a Royal Bank report showed that men are finding new jobs at approximately three times the rate that women are leaving theirs.
All signs point to the fact that it is the lack of childcare accelerating this drainage of women from the workforce. A Washington post report from July of 2020 indicated that 1 in 4 women said they left their job due to inadequate childcare options. This is not surprising, as mothers have always been the ones to traditionally take on more responsibilities when it comes to their children. In married couples with children, the pandemic has led to the mother leaving her job to take care of the children while the husband continues to work.
It is not an even split among the types of women who have left their jobs. Mothers of colour have been most negatively affected, with Black, Latinx and Indigenous mothers bearing the greatest losses. This is due to a combination of factors – they are more likely to work in a service sector, more likely to be included in the first round of company layoffs and less likely to have external support for childcare.
The type of jobs that women and men perform are also impacting this shift in the labour force. While opportunities for employment have grown in the tech, science and engineering fields, roles in hospitality and service industries have been decimated. As the percentage of men in these STEM fields is quite high, they are finding it easier to stay employed.
All this has meant that the labour market for women looks radically different than it did a year ago – and not in a good way. Women’s participation in the workforce is the lowest it has been in three decades in Canada.
Dawn Desjardins, RBC’s deputy chief economist said, “We need to see women come back into the labour market in order to ensure that our economy can hit the stronger growth rates as we go forward”.
A report from the American Center of Progress has estimated that unless conditions change for families, lost wages from women leaving the workforce could be as high as $64.5 billion dollars a year. This will have long lasting effects on gender equality in the workplace, as well as on long-term financial stability for women, such as retirement plans.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this issue. Until it is safe for children to go back to school, daycare or other paid childcare options, someone will have to look after them, and right now their mothers are picking up that slack. However, once the vaccine is distributed and life resumes, there will need to be a concerted effort on the part of federal governments around the world to ensure that this labour force shift doesn’t become permanent.