“It is unclear whether child-care issues will prevent women from returning to employment as the economy recovers,” wrote economist Betsey Stevenson (University of Michigan) in a July 2020 essay for The Hamilton Project. In the essay, Stevenson laid out a set of economic indicators and issues that if left unresolved, could lead to permanent labor market scarring following the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent months, the concerns raised by Stevenson about women and the labor market have, unfortunately, come true.
In the paper “Ten economic facts about how mothers spend their time,” my colleagues and I document some of the ways in which the labor market trajectory of mothers prior to the pandemic has not only been disrupted, but meaningfully turned back. In this piece, I provide new evidence that mothers — particularly mothers of children under five and unmarried mothers — are being left behind in the economic recovery from COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has widened labor force participation gaps between mothers and fathers. The LFPR of mothers overall was about 3.5 percentage points lower in March 2021 than in January 2020 (not shown) while fathers’ LFPR was down 1 percentage point. Moreover, the age of the children in the household contributes to differences in labor force participation rates (LFPR) during the COVID-19 pandemic (figure 1). While LFPRs of mothers whose youngest child is a teenager have rebounded to about 1.5 percentage points below its January 2020 level, mothers whose youngest children is under 13 are more than 4 percentage points below.
In January 2020, single mothers had the highest LFPR of the female groups at just over 81 percent. Since then, the LFPR fell the most among single mothers of the groups examined — with a decline of about 7.5 percentage points — and their rate has been the slowest to recover. As of March 2021, the LFPR for single mothers is a full 5 percentage points below its January 2020 rate.
Read the full article about mothers during economic recovery from COVID-19 by Lauren Bauer at Brookings.
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