Involuntary Exit: COVID's Impact on Working Moms

Special Guests: Bob Bixby, Tori Gorman, Diane Lim, Katherine Goldstein

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On the latest Facing the Future, I was joined by Concord Coalition Executive Director, Bob Bixby, Policy Director, Tori Gorman, economist Diane Lim and journalist and podcast host Katherine Goldstein. We discussed multiple-job holders in the labor force and their impact on the economy, with a focus on women and mothers in the workforce and how they are being affected by the pandemic.


[Note: Portions of this week’s Facing the Future can be seen in the video clips posted below.]

Lim said the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession has been characterized as a “she-cession.”

“The reason we’re calling it a ‘she-cession,’ or a female dominated recession, is because we’ve seen an unusual increase in female unemployment during this particular recession that we haven’t seen before,” Lim said. “The reasons for the high increase in unemployment, which hasn’t recovered yet for women, are on the labor demand side and the labor supply side of the economy.”

Women have been hit by a double-whammy on both sides of the market, she added.

“Women tend to work in occupations and industries that are hard to offshore or automate away because they’re very human-service providing or intensive industries,” Lim said. “That used to be a really safe kind of job prior to the pandemic, but during the pandemic, that’s exactly the worst kind of job to have in terms of being able to continue to work.”

Lim has also researched the concept of “multiple-job holders,” who in the economy holds multiple jobs and how they have fared during the pandemic.

“As female labor force participation has increased over the past several decades, so too has the frequency of multiple-job holding,” Lim said. “Typically the reason for multiple job holding among women, especially mothers, has to do with the inability to find a full-time job that provides the income and flexibility they need.”

“It’s a necessity, rather than a luxury, for women who are single parents that have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet,” she said.

Lim added that, typically, women or mothers are the ones that pickup the slack at home. And, because of the gender pay gap, it usually results in being less costly for a woman to stay home with the kids than the man.

“And then the gender pay gap gets perpetuated and magnified,” she said.

During the pandemic recession, there was a falloff in the number of people, both men and women, working multiple jobs because of the amount of overall unemployment and loss of jobs in the economy. There has been a sharp bounceback, but a lot of the jobs that have come back are part time, Lim said.

Lim added that women have recently seen a greater increase or return to multiple-job holding than men, in part because many women have had to make up for a weak labor market for their occupations.

She said that policy implementation right now, in order to help both women and men, should focus on getting the pandemic under control.

“What is preventing women from getting back to work is not just that the businesses they work for might not be safe to reopen, but also that their children are home from school,” Lim said. “While we’re waiting for the public health crisis to resolve, we need to help keep families afloat.”


Goldstein joined the program to provide a unique perspective on how the pandemic and economic downturn have affected mothers in particular.

“There’s a statistic that’s been going around that over 860,000 women left the workforce between August and September, and we often frame that as ‘dropout,’” Goldstein said. “The problem I have with that term is that it makes it seem like it’s a personal choice.”

“Many mothers who are being forced out of the workforce really have no choice,” Goldstein said. “There’s virtual school around the country and really no public policy support; we’ve been abandoned by the government.”

Goldstein characterized the federal government’s initial response to the pandemic, largely through the CARES Act, as a “band-aid for a bullet wound.”

“It was very good that a lot of workers and parents got some direct cash assistance, but I think we are going to need something much more extensive, much more long term,” she said. “The sort-of temporary ideas around paid leave were a step in the right direction, given how far outside the norm America is in terms of not having guaranteed paid leave or paid sick days.”

She also advocated for the creation of a new program called “CareCorps,” aimed at helping working mothers and families.

“One idea I had in the throes of taking care of my new-born twins during the pandemic is an AmeriCorps or Peace Corps for care,” Goldstein said. “There are a lot of young adults taking time off from school or don’t have great job prospects because of the economy. Could we match young adults with people who need help with tutoring, virtual school or care, and make care a patriotic endeavor and part of our national call to help each other during this time?”

“Getting men more involved in child care and these issues will create more cultural change,” she added. “My latest mantra is that ‘we need to make this a man’s problem.’ Every woman should find a man, and make it his problem, whether it’s her Mayor, state senator, head of her school board.”

Goldstein said the pandemic has helped emphasize the need for change culturally and in policy when it comes to issues affecting women and mothers in the workforce.

“People are seeing that the status of women and mothers will impact our economic recovery,” she said. “This is no longer a personal problem for women to just figure out on their own.”


Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL, (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play Music or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.




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