None of us could have seen this coming. Remember life in the before times? Back in February, when we were complaining about the never-ending winter, and about running our kids to 900 different activities, and about cooking them meal after meal they wouldn’t eat? What we wouldn’t give to go back…
At least then, for most of us, we weren’t terrified of losing our jobs on a daily basis. Unless you worked for a company on the verge of closing or you had an inkling your position might be eliminated, you likely went to work every day back in February believing that yeah, maybe you’d never fly off to Tahiti, but your paycheck was pretty stable.
For thousands of Americans today, that is no longer the case. Beyond the catastrophic number of U.S. residents who’ve already lost their source of income due to COVID-19, there is still a disturbingly large percentage of people in this country who live in constant fear of losing their jobs—and it’s directly related to their kids. Kids they need to feed with that paycheck.
Back in March when quarantine hit, most of us who aren’t in the medical field probably thought, “Ugh, this sucks. This will last what—a few weeks?” Soon after, the realization came over the horizon that our kids were not going back to school for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. But obviously they’d all be back in person come fall, right? Schools and daycares would be totally safe then, right? I mean, our country had the entire summer to collectively get its shit together.
Hahaha. We forgot about our nation’s lack of mature, grown-up leadership. We forgot about how dangerous and detrimental the spread of misinformation is. And we forgot about the selfishness of those who won’t wear a simple face covering at Target because of their “rights.”
So here we are, in September, and kids across America still aren’t back in school. COVID-19 still rages from city to city and state to state. Childcare centers still aren’t safe enough for many parents to risk sending their kids. Which means parents across America still aren’t back at work, or at least aren’t back in person. And, as month after month ticks by with so many of us trying like hell to do our jobs from home while we monitor our sweet cherubs and make sure they’re actually doing their math sheet and not playing Roblox, our bosses are getting increasingly frustrated. And we’re afraid, each time we show up frazzled to a Zoom chat or get interrupted on a call by a small person asking for a snack or to have their butt wiped, that our bosses will find someone else to do our job—someone without kids.
Or at least someone who can come in to work every day because their partner—ahem, more often than not, MOM—can handle shit at home.
A new MagnifyMoney survey of more than 1,000 employed parents found that 30% of them are terrified of losing their job. (If you’re not a numbers person, that’s 3 out of 10, which is a fuck-ton of people.)
And, in news that’s shocking to no one, the survey also found that “parents of color and women are in a particularly bad position and are more likely than their white male counterparts to report less flexible employers.” Wow. Really? No one saw that coming.
We live in a society that still expects women to be the primary caregivers. That means women have been expected, far more often than men, to step down during this pandemic and do just that—be home to watch the kids, help with virtual school, make sure they eat their vegetables and learn their sight words—while the men go off to work. It’s a return to the 1950s! Yay. Nostalgia is fun.
We’re not imagining this shit, folks. The MagnifyMoney survey reports that “men are more likely than women to report their employer was very flexible as they work and care for their child — 52% and 41%, respectively.” And, they say that working women are much more likely to say they’ll stay home with the kids (48%) in comparison to working men (34%).
— Gretchen Goldman, PhD (@GretchenTG) September 15, 2020
This isn’t a knock on women who choose to take a step back from their careers and/or be the default parent when it comes to at-home school. Lots of women have made that decision because it made sense for their family and because they want to be the primary overseer on school related matters.
The problem is that this is the expectation. The problem is that even in 2020, employers are still working harder, as evident in the quote above, to retain their male employees—by allowing flexible hours and work from home options—more than they are for female employees. So, in male/female households where both parents are trying to manage virtual school and full time childcare, which of those two parents is likely to pause their career?
In the last 2 weeks I have talked to 5 women who are pausing or leaving their careers to support their children virtually. The weight of this pandemic on the shoulders of women is something we should monitor.
— Kenya Adjekum Bradshaw from Wakanda (@KenyaBradshaw) September 15, 2020
Now imagine life for single moms, who don’t have a partner to earn the income while they become the default parent. And imagine life for women who cannot work from home and whose household relies on them going in to work every day. This is the reality for mothers all over America. And it’s drowning our country.
Also, proving that racial divides continue to plague these not-so-united states, the survey reports this as well: “Parents of color face disproportionate challenges, as 12% of working Black and Hispanic parents feel completely unsupported by their employer’s lack of flexibility, compared with 5% of white parents and 3% of Asian parents.”
And, the study found that “Black parents (40%) and Hispanic parents (33%) are much more afraid of losing their job when compared with their white (29%) and Asian counterparts (27%).”
These disproportionate numbers don’t lie.
All racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups have kids who are home right now, yet parents of color are struggling more than parents who are white to find a way to get their work done and make their bosses happy. This is problematic on so many levels, as all kids—all. kids.—deserve an equal and fair education. And all of their parents deserve a fair path to ensure their children can receive that education while also being able to pay the bills and put food on the table.
So what do working parents need? Help. They need help.
MagnifyMoney reveals many alarming statistics—numbers that should give us pause. Like, a big pause. For example, 32% of participants admitted that they are considering taking on debt in order to find childcare for the fall so they can work, whether out of the home or from an in-home setup. They’re realizing they can’t do their job and monitor their kids’ education efficiently. That’s a lot of debt, people. A lot of debt that will impact our nation’s economic recovery.
Obviously we need American parents to go to work and do their jobs, because we’re depending on them. Our economy is depending on them. But we also need them to ensure their kid are safe, fed, and attending school. So, without parent-cloning clinics on every corner, how do we make it all work?
First of all, we must address the issue of inequity among working parents. One of the most alarming takeaways from this survey is that there are glaring gaps throughout our population when it comes to wealth and education. “Overall, our findings underscore that parents of color and working mothers are facing more challenges when it comes to balancing child care and work amid the pandemic,” MagnifyMoney says. “This is especially troublesome, as it could widen the wealth gap between people of color and their white peers — as well as the wealth gap between men and women — if the challenges end up adversely impacting their careers.”
MagnifyMoney also says that “nearly 7 in 10 parents believe the government should provide child-care stipends to working parents amid the pandemic.” Again, for the anti-math folks, that’s almost 70% of American moms and dads saying, “We need financial assistance to fund childcare, please, or we can’t do this.”
And, the survey findings add, “36% said another round of stimulus checks would solve their child-care problems completely.”
Trump needs to realize that this country is in peril. He needs to spend less time stressing about how many attend his mask-less rallies and more time stressing about what will happen if more and more moms, particularly single moms and women of color, are forced out of the workforce. I mean, he wants America to be great, right? I think I heard him say that once. How can we be great if parents lose their jobs? Or if 1/3 of them go into debt? Or if the digital divide and wealth gap grows between racial and ethnic groups and between genders?
The truth is, we can’t. It’s a reality many politicians do not want to face, but it’s the reality of our nation nonetheless. Working mothers—particularly those who are Black and Hispanic—need help, right now, today, as this pandemic rages on, with no end in sight.