During the pandemic, it was estimated that between two and three million women left the workforce. While there are signs that women are returning towards pre-pandemic levels, there are still a variety of sectors, especially care workers, that have not recovered and signs don’t point to an optimistic outcome.
Women are largely those that leave the workforce to provide care for children and or the elderly. Providing care makes it difficult for women to work, especially in more traditional sectors where workers must be present and work hours that don’t align with school and care options. This is especially true for single mothers.
What should be done? There are many thoughtful people across the country that are working on this issue. As you think about how your company and or community can support labor participation among women by tackling caregiving needs, here are some things to think about:
- What is it that workers actually need and want when it comes to childcare? In order to address caregiving, we must address quality and quantity and respond to what workers want and need when it comes to childcare. For example, the West Alabama area has realized that blue collar workers want their childcare close to where they live, not close to where they work. Whereas one solution would be for large manufacturing companies to build onsite childcare facilities, this would neglect to understand what the population they employ needs and prefers. So they have launched an initiative to increase in-home daycares in their community. You can learn more about their program in this Family or Group Childcare Homes Workbook.
In addition, employers across the state are looking into options like Tootris to provide a customized approach to childcare instead of a one size fits all approach (and most likely saving millions by outsourcing the access to childcare). In this model, Tootris helps families find childcare that meets their needs through an online network and then the employer provides a financial subsidy to the employee through Tootris to help pay for that childcare.
Finally, we also need to consider what people need when it comes to carrying not only for children, but also for aging and/or disabled loved ones. Often, this is largely left out of the discussion when seeking to address the labor participation issue.
- It is an affordability issue. Systems like Tootris provide a means for employers to help offset the cost of childcare. And to be sure, quality child care is expensive. My youngest child just transitioned from a high-quality childcare program to a public school Pre-K and what we paid for that childcare now almost pays the mortgage on our home each month.
Some states are getting involved to try to figure out how public-private partnerships can make an impact on labor participation through subsidizing the cost of childcare. The state of Indiana proposed splitting the cost of childcare in thirds- employers paying one third, employees paying one third and the state paying one third. Although this legislation has not passed in Indiana, the research behind it showed that the state would more than offset the cost through increased payroll taxes being collected by those that were able to return or enter the workforce because their childcare needs were now met.
- We need to examine what it means to work and when and how we structure education with working parents in mind. I mentioned that my youngest child transitioned into a public school Pre-K. While this is saving us over $800 a month, he now has to be picked up by 2:15 pm each day. Given he is in Pre-K, he is too young to go to the school’s extended day program. My husband and I are fortunate to have flexibility when it comes to working hours and we have retired grandparents available around the corner from the school we can call on when needed. My issues, to be sure, come from a place of unique privilege. But when we think about childcare, we have to stop and realize that school days and work days don’t often align when it comes to hours and schedules. My school aged children are out of school now for fall break- five days- and will be out of school a total of seven days before December (not counting Christmas Break). People working in traditional fields do not have access to seven days off in less than a two month period.
I don’t have the solutions for this issue, but we need to be talking about it. Employers need to consider what it actually means to get quality work done, and oftentimes we are too rigid on when and how this takes place. Communities and school systems need to work with employers to consider the demands placed on working parents when every time you turn around, kids are out of school and the hours in which they go to school aren’t consistent with a traditional work day. Our workplaces would be better off and our schools would too because families would be better supported.
What are you seeing that is helping to address labor participation due to caregiving issues?