Tag Archives: Childcare

Working Women of Color in Crisis

On Monday, March 8 as we celebrated International Women’s Day, I received many empowering messages from my female friends from all walks of life.  But at this moment in history, the irony of the situation is that while women have made tremendous strides in the workplace with fulfilling careers and increasing pay in the past half-century, the pandemic has upended all that progress in just one year.  

Workforce participation of women has reached a level last seen in 1988.  The Gender Wage gap is estimated to widen even further from 81 cents on the dollar to 76 cents on the dollar.  

President Biden has called it a national emergency and on that same Monday, March 8 on International Women’s Day, he signed an executive order establishing the Gender Policy Council within the White House to focus on uplifting the rights of women and address gender-based discrimination and violence among many other such goals.  But a telling addition to his broad gender policy initiative was its particular focus on addressing the coronavirus pandemic and its disproportionate impact on women by engaging with the White House coronavirus task force. 

Here are some sobering statistics from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.  Nearly 3 million women in the U.S. have left the labor force in the past year. Those who are employed make up an outsized share of the high-risk essential workforce, holding 78% of all hospital jobs, 70% of pharmacy jobs, and 51% of grocery store jobs. Two out of three women are caregivers, putting them at risk of depression and anxiety. Nearly two-thirds of mothers are in charge of supporting their children’s remote learning. 

“We saw all of these economic cleavages that were underneath those gains laid bare for us,” says C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.,  president, and chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Women fell out of the workforce at four times the rate of men and have a disproportionate number of job losses mainly because they are overrepresented in the hardest-hit sectors like the service sector, leisure, hospitality, education, and healthcare.  Black and Latino women in particular make up a little over a quarter of all jobs in the service sector.  If you couple this with the lower wages, pay inequality, fewer benefits in those jobs, it has been economically devastating for the women in this country.  

We were already dealing with a broken child care infrastructure and the pandemic brought this into focus for many American families.  School closures had a disproportionate effect on women as well.  In August 2020, when schools did not reopen, 860,000 women exited the workplace because they had to make the tough choice between their families and their jobs. 

Many of these women according to Dr. Mason are the primary breadwinners in their family and make less than 40k a year but still had to make this desperate choice because their children were failing virtual school.

Not surprisingly,  mothers are also doing a disproportionate share of pandemic parenting, regardless of employment. This raises the question, why are mothers taking on so much more of the parenting responsibilities during this pandemic, even when they have a partner who could share the duties? And especially when those partners see the devastating effect it is having on the mothers, both emotionally and economically. 

“This is because of the gendered structures of paid work that existed long before the pandemic” according to Dr. Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. This division of unpaid labor that women in families have always done has been starkly laid bare during this pandemic.  Women are in crisis. They are tired, depressed, and scared.

Many of the work-from-home mothers described having little choice but to sacrifice their paid work for their families during the pandemic because they were the only parent able to work from home or they earned substantially less than their male partners or because their children demanded more of their attention at home.  This leads to a combination of frustration, resentment, and then guilt – all taking a toll on their wellbeing and having an adverse effect on all aspects of their family’s life. 

More than a quarter of mothers report more verbal or physical fights with their partners or spouses.  30% say they are yelling more at their kids.  Another third says they are more frustrated with their children. Mothers also feel tremendous guilt at the amount of screen time their children are exposed to, because of virtual school and for entertainment. 

Dr. Calarco’s research shows that the pandemic is having serious consequences for mothers’ paid work, relationships, and wellbeing. She says these inequalities exposed by the pandemic reflect the gendered inequalities in our workplace and are “not just the function of men not stepping up to do their part”.  They are a function of failed policies, of the lack of affordable childcare, and lack of maternity leave.  This forced women into lower-paid jobs and part-time work even before the pandemic and now leave them feeling like “they have no choice but to sacrifice their own careers and wellbeing for their husband’s higher earning jobs.” 

When the recovery begins, it is very important to create economic policies that support this sector that was hardest hit – women and especially women of color and lower-wage workers. Some of the policies that could help women recover their place in the workplace include a minimum wage increase, especially for women of color.  If the Federal government cannot pass this legislation, follow the lead of many states and cities that have done so.  Healthcare, childcare support, and paid leave investments are also critical policies that need to be legislated.  Education and job training opportunities for women coming back to work after the pandemic is also critical.  And most importantly, we need vaccines in the arms of all Americans so that we can safely open schools and daycares and get women back to work.  

Corporate America should open back-to-work programs and reduce barriers for women to return to work. Paid leave and childcare facilities could increase flexibility that frankly, most employees with families want.   In many cases, the executives who are women and mothers with children at home and are saying to Maria Aspan, senior writer at Fortune,  “I am not just worrying about this for my employees, I am living this.”

There is a genuine desire to work on these issues, but, says Ms. Aspan, we have to wait to see if there is “any action behind the rhetoric”. 

This is a unifying time for all women, of all socioeconomic levels, that have been hit hard by this pandemic. We need to hold both the government and the private sector accountable.  It is time for all of us to band together to advocate for policies that will help all women thrive emotionally and economically.  And we will take our partners with us into this more equitable future.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality, and public education.

Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash

School Closures Hurt Families and Children

Millions of Americans are experiencing threats to their health and economic security during the pandemic, says Mayra Alvarez, President of The Children’s Partnership, but it’s “especially true for children from immigrant families” who have been severely impacted by the lockdown.

Covid19-related school closures are hurting children who have traditionally relied on the safety net that schools provide.

Schools play a critical role in offering education, physical activity and enrichment activities for children across the country, says Alvarez, but many children from low income and families of color also rely on school meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

“For many families, schools are a key source of childcare.”

School closures mean months of lost time in classrooms, but they adversely impact vulnerable children who have lost access to low-cost or free school meals, the community of their teachers and classmates, and other benefits built into the educational infrastructure.

Covid-19 is likely to exacerbate the inequities in learning opportunities that have existed for far too long for marginalized children, Alvarez said.

Along with a panel of experts, Alvarez was discussing the pandemic’s effects on minority communities and the implications of going back to work after the lockdown, at a telebriefing organized by Ethnic Media Services on May 1.

What school closures mean

At least 55.1 million students at nearly 124 thousand public and private schools have been impacted as the majority of US States have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the school year said Alvarez.

But, as schools transition to remote learning environments that offer a ‘multitude of distance learning resources’, children from underserved communities may not be able to access web-based academic instruction and enrichment activities during the closure.

Many of them will lose months of normal instruction. As a result, children who are already academically behind and underserved will suffer without the support schools offer them and their families, said Alvarez.

It’s an “unprecedented risk to education and wellbeing,” she said, particularly for the most marginalized children who rely on school for education, health, safety and nutrition.

Families are Struggling

Immigrants and their families who are being excluded from federal relief efforts face increasing economic hardships and health risks, Alvarez pointed out.

In a recent survey by the Children’s Partnership and Education Trust West, a poll of 600 parents across California showed that more than half of parents with young children (aged 0-5) were uneasy about personal finances. More than a third were not confident about being able to pay for basic needs like food, housing and healthcare.

The results were ‘not surprising, but deeply disheartening’ said Alvarez. COVID 19 is threatening the physical, mental and emotional health of families

About one in three parents are skipping or reducing meals so their kids don’t go hungry, a number that increases significantly among new parents with a child one to six months old, low income parents, Latinx parents, and families in some Los Angeles counties.

Less than a quarter (18%) of families are currently able to access their doctor through telehealth and nearly 1 in 3 parents have missed health appointments for their child due to Covid19,

Researchers also learned that 72% of families (57% of black, 76% of Latinx) are worried about mental health, and 23% of parents worried about the impact of substance abuse and domestic violence.

Results reveal that young children under five are facing significant mental health risks at an age when their brains are rapidly developing and are most at risk from trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

The coronavirus has been incredibly disruptive, risking the heath and wellbeing of parents and children across California, says Alvarez.

As families struggle with financial and food security, access to health programs and web-based support, their challenges are made worse by existing inequities for low income families and families of color in particular, says Alvarez.

“‘It’s clear from the data that the children whose families are being hit hardest by this crisis are the same children that our systems of education, health and social services have long failed to support. We can and must do better” urged Alvarez

How will children emerge from this crisis?

In California, Governor Gavin Newsome has issued a roadmap for reopening the state, its schools and childcare centers.

Modifications include an early start to the next school year, class sizes cut in half, staggered schedules and expanded childcare facilities. Safety measures feature protocols for protections, physical distancing and limiting the number of students during meal distribution, PE classes or recess.

However, there remain many unknowns, says Alvarez, and a timeline is still unclear.

What is clear is that families and children, especially in marginalized communities, need a level playing field as communities reopen.

How children emerge from this crisis will depend on how they are affected by the choices parents and caregivers make about basic expenses, Alvarez suggested. That means:

  • Parents and caregivers need financial resources, so they don’t have to worry about basic expenses or make choices on what to spend on in this crisis – healthcare, food or housing.
  • Students returning to school need support to address emerging academic, health & psychological needs.
  • People need web-based support and free online resources to access distance learning or virtual storytime, so they don’t fall behind.
  • Families need support to access telehealth and health professionals for their health and wellbeing; It is critical that they get childcare arrangements and parenting support they need.
  • Providing meals for families with food insecurity need (EG: Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer) critical in reaching vulnerable communities.

“Our response to the pandemic must ensure that of children of color, dual language learners, and children from low income families are at forefront of priorities”  says Alvarez, as California and its schools start to think about reopening and rebuilding their communities.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photos by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

 

Catholic Charities Celebrates!

“Shotgun” by Jr. Walker & The All Stars, the 1990s pop song, filled the street as community members, volunteers and employees of Catholic Charities assembled, sheltering under rain canopies. February 26, 2019, was the first anniversary of Catholic Charities Bayview Access Point, and the jovial crowd made sure that there would be “no raining on this parade.”

The Bayview Access Point provides multiple services targeting the needs of San Francisco’s homeless families. Through rental assistance, legal referrals, childcare, and even housing subsidies, the nonprofit has helped numerous families and individuals in finding safe housing options for the past 25 years.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, world-renowned actor Danny Glover, and Reverend Amos C. Brown, graced the stage in honor of Black History Month and to express their gratitude towards the community members and employees of the Bayview district — highlighting the fact that San Francisco’s homeless population is disproportionately African American and LGBTQ.

Mayor London Breed zealously stated, “As Mayor of San Francisco I, too, stand on the shoulders of so many incredible leaders from the Bayview Hunters Point. A place that has a rich history, a rich tradition of African Americans… the folks in this community played a critical role in [the building of this city].” Mayor Breed continued highlighting a call to action, “We have work to do, to change some of the things that exist in San Francisco! [However] thank goodness we have an amazing community willing to wrap their arms around [struggling families] and ensure their success.”

Nothing about the perennial crisis in the Bay Area is easy, with more families getting pushed out of the city center,  scaling rental prices, and competitive buyers. However, honoring Black History Month, the speakers challenged the audience to work constructively towards common community goals with dignity, respect, and love for one another. And with the right political investments, compassion from residents, and the support of an organization like Catholic Charities, society can prevent family homelessness and ensure individuals receive the assistance and care they need.