The ‘silver lining’ of the pandemic for working mothers | ET REALITY

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The proportion of American women working for pay is at a record high. According to a recent analysis, the increase has been led by an unexpected group: mothers of children under 5 years old.

Although mothers in this group have always worked less than other women, their progress since the pandemic has been greater. He analysisprepared by the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project and based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, identifies one important reason: the new ability of certain mothers, especially those married with college degrees, to work remotely.

“What’s happening to married, well-educated women with young children is crazy,” said Lauren Bauer, a Brookings fellow and author, with Sarah Yu Wang, of the analysis. “These are women who see themselves as workers. “They were on an upward trend before the pandemic, they recovered and moved on.”

Julia Keintz took a job as an analytics leader at Zillow two years ago, when her children were 6 months and 11 years old. One of the reasons she wanted the job, she said, was that since the pandemic, Zillow has allowed employees to live wherever they want and work flexible hours.

He lives outside San Francisco, where Zillow has an office, but rarely goes inside. When the youngest was a baby, he could avoid carrying breast milk pumping supplies to and from work. He saves 90 minutes a day by not commuting. He can give his older son a snack after school and take him to sports practices and bar mitzvah preparations.

In previous jobs, she said, she felt like she had to figure out how to juggle work and raising children on her own, and that she might have to quit if she couldn’t. “It always felt like a secret, like I was an exception,” Keintz said. “Zillow is the first company I’ve worked for where flexibility is something that’s outwardly stated.”

The proportion of women working in the United States increased rapidly beginning in the 1970s with the feminist movement. For people ages 25 to 54, it surpassed 77 percent in the 1990s, when changes to welfare and the earned income tax credit pushed more women into work. But then it stagnated, even as it continued to rise in peer countries. Economists have attributed this to the lack of family-friendly policies in the United States, such as paid leave and subsidized child care. Furthermore, employers increasingly expect availabilitya challenge with the children at home.

Labor force participation for all working-age adults, including mothers, increased in late 2019, just before the pandemic, when a combination of very low unemployment and certain state and local policies eased the path to finding job.

Today, 77.7 percent of women ages 25 to 54 are employed, a new record and proof that school and daycare closures during the pandemic have failed to erase decades of gains in women’s employment. A higher proportion of mothers of preschool- and school-aged children are working now than before the pandemic.

Several factors have drawn more women into the workforce in recent months. There were temporary federal expansions of paid leave and child care subsidies during the pandemic, and some states and cities they have done similar benefits permanent. A tight labor market has probably contributed, by making jobs more attractive, as has inflation, by making a higher income more essential. And the cultural changes that began before the pandemic have continued: Women are receiving more education, having children later, and investing more of their time and identity in a career.

However, a particularly influential change for parents, researchers say, has been remote work for people with office jobs and greater flexibility over when and where work is done. These pandemic-driven changes are also benefiting other groups, such as people with disabilities, who are also working at record levels.

Becca Cosani took a new job as a health insurance consultant when her oldest daughter, Emilia, now 3, was a baby. She called it a “scary move” because of the constant travel consulting requires, with a baby and a husband whose business, engine rebuilding, can’t be run from home.

“Women work more because they have to,” she said. “Our daycare costs more than our mortgage. “I earn a lot and I look for coupons for my purchases.”

Then the pandemic hit and the trip never materialized because the clients were working remotely and decided it was more efficient. He works from his home office in Missouri City, Texas.

On breaks, she does laundry or runs errands. “That time is given back to me, the time I can spend with my kids when they’re home,” she said of activities like riding her bike or foraging for nuts in the tree in his backyard. When one of them has an ear infection or a ballet class after school, she can escape.

She walks 1-year-old Emilia and Isabel home from preschool every day. They take it easy and stop to look at the leaves, something she says would have been missed if she were traveling or going to work: “Being able to do that is the joy of my life.”

The analysis did not include fathers, but other data suggests that those who can work from home also spend more time raising children than before the pandemic and value flexibility more than before.

“The ‘new normal at work’ is in effect here,” said Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist who won the Nobel Prize this month for her research on women’s employment. Some women who would have stopped working when their children were young have not done so, she has found: “It is the great positive side of the pandemic.”

Mothers of babies and toddlers, an age group that requires significant hands-on care, have benefited the most from remote work, Project Hamilton analysis shows. Of college-educated mothers of children under 5, 80.3 percent are working, up from a previous high of 77.4 percent in late 2019. Nearly half of them said in federal surveys that they have been working since home at least once a week, a much higher percentage. greater proportion than any other group.

Women with less education, and those who are Hispanic or single, are more likely to have a job that cannot be done remotely, such as a retail employee or health aide. Although this group has largely returned to work, they are still working below the pace they had before the pandemic: Of mothers with young children and a high school diploma or less, 54.4 percent are working, in compared to 56.1 percent at the end of 2019.

These workers are also less likely to have employers that provide other types of family benefits or a spouse with flexible schedules. Researchers say government policies would be necessary to reach all workers.

“Women who cannot work remotely need special attention,” said Misty Heggeness, an economist at the University of Kansas. “If any good can come from our awareness and understanding of this it is how we can build better social policies and social and structural supports.”

Graphics by Francesca Paris.

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