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How the pandemic is forcing women out of the workforce, explained in a comic

Between child care and homeschooling, women’s time is becoming worth less. It could take years to recover lost ground.


While the Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped the lives of all Americans, the changes at home and at work have hit women particularly hard. It’s caused an exodus of women from the workforce.
At the start of the pandemic, a shocking 2,651,000 women left the workforce, sending the women’s unemployment rate skyrocketing.
The coronavirus smashes up the bargain that so many dual-earner couples have made in the developed world: “We can both work because someone else is looking after our children.” Helen Lewis, journalist
Now, couples have to make difficult decisions about how to distribute these massive new child care responsibilities.
In my family, most of the responsibility for the kids fell to me.
My job as a freelance writer already had built-in flexibility, and my co-parent significantly out-earns me.
We couldn’t afford to lose his salary, so I canceled my existing contracts and scaled way back to look after our kids and take the lead on their distance learning.
My story is typical. According to the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion, of the adults who aren’t currently working because of caregiving obligations, 80% are women.
617,000 women — eight times more than the number of men — were forced out of the workforce in September alone, just as school would typically be ramping up.
According to the US Current Population Survey data, mothers who continue to work have had to reduce their work hours at a rate five times greater than that of fathers.
Because of persistent school and day care closures, the work of caregiving has been forcibly shifted from the paid economy to the unpaid economy.
And women have always run the unpaid economy.
According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, moms are more than three times as likely as dads to do most of the household and parenting work.
And, on average, they spend twice as much time on household chores, for a total of more than 18 hours a week — nearly a half-time job.
The situation is even worse for women of color. Latina mothers are over one and a half times more likely than white mothers to perform all the child care and housework.
Black mothers are twice as likely to shoulder all of this responsibility on their own: Women of color also earn less and are more likely to work in high-contact jobs, those most affected by the pandemic.
The career hits that women are taking now are almost certain to have dramatic effects on workplace equity moving forward.
Women’s disproportionate responsibilities at home were already a major contributing factor to their lower pay and difficulty advancing at work. Now men will have an even greater advantage when it comes to increased opportunities, promotions, and raises.
The reverberations of this pandemic will be felt by women for years to come.
When things fall apart, we are quick to sacrifice women’s time and expect them to pick up the pieces. But the paid economy does not value the competency we demand from them in times of crisis.
Now that I’ve added two new unpaid jobs (kindergarten teacher and 2nd grade teacher) to my usual slate of domestic work, with no acknowledgment from our leadership of the magnitude of this sacrifice, I’m even more acutely aware of how little my time seems to be worth.
The government appears to be either willfully ignoring the massive gender imbalance in these statistics or happy to have us back in the kitchen.
So, like our mothers and grandmothers before us, we’ll have to summon the strength to fight our way out again.

Aubrey Hirsch is a writer and illustrator in Berkeley, California. Her work has appeared in the Nib, the New York Times, the Rumpus, and elsewhere. She’s created comics about adult friendships and the women’s happiness gap for The Highlight.

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