Illinois moms take brunt of COVID-19 unemployment

Illinois moms take brunt of COVID-19 unemployment

COVID-19 and associated government lockdowns disproportionately harmed women with children at home.

An additional 32,465 Illinoisans filed for unemployment the week ending July 25, bringing total job losses to 1,527,632 since COVID-19 began shutting down the state’s economy, according to recently released data from the U.S. Department of Labor. However, job losses through June have disproportionately fallen on women more than men in Illinois, and mothers with children suffered the greatest hit.

By June 2020, women with no children in the household had suffered a smaller decline in employment (-11.8%) than similar men (-13.8%) due to COVID-19 and the associated government shutdowns.

Women with young children at home suffered nearly three times the job loss experienced by similar men. Only 5.7% of men with young children at home lost their jobs compared to 16.3% of similar women with children in the home.

Before COVID-19, there was already an unemployment gap between men with children and similar women, meaning the pandemic and government-mandated shutdowns that caused greater job loss among women have exacerbated the gap between women and men.

But, the unemployment rate only tells half the story. Women are also leaving the labor force.

Women looking after young children at home are the only group to have seen their labor force participation rate decline due to COVID-19 and the governor’s stay-at-home orders. While COVID-19 had no effect on the labor force participation of men, the pandemic shutdowns caused the number of women with young children in the state’s workforce to fall by 6.3% (see appendix).

As lockdown measures remain in place these gaps are likely to persist, particularly for those with children in the home as day cares are still operating with limited capacity and it is unclear whether schools will reopen for in-person learning in the fall.

Marilyn Kline-Peacock runs a day care from her home in Carthage, Illinois. State COVID-19 mandates restrict her to half of the 12 youngsters she normally would handle, which means there are six fewer moms able to return to work and she can only afford to bring her one employee in part-time.

Beyond her business, there are 20 to 25 home-based day cares in her community. Some remain closed and the remaining are also restricted to half capacity.

“We’ve also just found out that our school system is going to go to half days. These children are going to be let out at 12:15 or 12:20 p.m. and they’re going to need to go to a day care somewhere. And we’re all maxed out because of the guidelines by the state that they won’t let our numbers go back up,” Kline-Peacock said.

“So, we’re going to find out real quick come Aug. 17 [when school resumes] how in need our families really are in our communities, because everybody’s struggling to find somewhere for their kids right now,” she said.

Restrictions are also likely affecting employment among child care providers as limited capacity reduces employment opportunities for these workers. The most recent pre-pandemic figures estimate that there were 16,550 day care providers in Illinois.

As new data on COVID-19 emerges, Illinois will have to adapt to changing circumstances. Still, Gov. J.B. Pritzker should make clear he expects all Illinois schools to reopen for in-person instruction this fall, absent unforeseen developments surrounding the virus. School districts can look to ISBE and IDPH’s guidelines to plan for this, with remote and hybrid learning guidelines as last-resort backups and to accommodate students with special health considerations. Illinois students have already lost so much valuable classroom time, and students with the greatest needs and challenges have the most to lose if schools don’t open their doors.

Furthermore, parents who are struggling to find work at this time and those who are managing working from home while attempting to supervise their children’s education and provide child care need more certainty around if or when their schools and day care providers will be allowed to operate under normal capacity. Without greater clarity, it is likely the government’s response to COVID-19 will exacerbate the employment gap between men and women.

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