Oct 23, 2020 - Economy & Business

Child care crisis is denting the labor market

Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

New data from the Pew Research Center shows that parents are being hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and as far as job losses go, mothers and fathers are faring equally poorly.

Why it matters: Economists have been warning for months that the pandemic could do long-term damage to the economy as people remain unemployed for longer stretches of time.

  • And the decline of women's growth as a share of the labor force reverses what had been a broad-based economic tailwind for the U.S.

What's happening: "[O]ver the first six months of the outbreak, the labor market impact of COVID-19 has similarly affected mothers and fathers, and the wide gulf that exists in the workplace engagement of mothers and fathers persists virtually unchanged," Pew writes.

  • "The share of mothers and fathers who were employed and at work plunged with the onset of the coronavirus outbreak and had recovered only partially through September 2020."
  • "The gender gap in September (22 percentage points) is slightly greater than in February (20 points), but a similar gap was also present in September 2019."

What we're hearing: "If you want to maximize economic growth, you want all working age adults to be engaged with the labor market at their maximum capacity," Misty Heggeness, a visiting scholar at the Minneapolis Fed, tells Axios.

  • "We're cutting ourselves short as a society."

The big picture: "There is no new normal to this. It just keeps getting worse every day," says Alicia Modestino, an economics professor at Northeastern University and a former senior economist at the Boston Fed.

  • "When you look down the barrel of hybrid or remote learning for an entire year, as a working parent you just want to cry."

By the numbers: In addition to the decline of parents who are employed and at work, more parents also are dropping out of the labor force altogether, Pew's data show. That means they're not looking for work.

  • The percentage of mothers not in the labor force jumped to 29.1% in September from 26.4% in September 2019.
  • For fathers, the rate has increased to 7.8% from 6.2%.

The bottom line: The U.S. economy is losing workers, which will ultimately make the country less productive.

  • The share of women employed and at work is the lowest it has been in 35 years.
  • The share of men at work is the lowest it has ever been.

Editor's note: This piece was corrected to show the share of women employed and at work is the lowest it's been for 35 years (not 25 years).

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