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KOLD INVESTIGATES: Women in the workforce account for most of the ‘great resignation’

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 7:32 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - For many women, it has been a battle to stay in the workforce during the pandemic. While many men are experiencing the same thing, the National Women’s Law Center says there are some gender disparities.

According to their analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, since February of 2020, we have lost 3.6 million jobs with women accounting for more than 59% of those. It also shows the labor force participation rate for women is at its lowest point in more than 30 years.

While the economy did gain 199,000 jobs in December of 2021, men accounted for a strong majority with women claiming less than 24%. The N.W.L.C. estimates, it would take women 45 months of growth at this rate to gain back the more than 2,000,000 jobs they lost since the pandemic started.

So when there’s talk of the “great resignation,” does that really mean a great resignation of women?

“In a lot of ways, yeah,” said University of Arizona Professor Allison Gabriel. She says there are several reasons why many women are either leaving the workforce or struggling to stay in it.

“You have child care costs going up, you have lack of parental leave and paid leave that are available and I think women at the beginning of the pandemic and now had to make choices of, you know, do I stay home? Who in the family is going to stay home? And in most cases it was women electing to make that choice,” she said.

Some local child care facilities implemented higher rates starting in January. Pair that, with this being the first month families are not receiving money from the expanded child tax credit and Gabriel says it is possible we could see another wave of women leaving the workforce at the beginning of this year.

“If we do not see more affordable options available, if we do not see more support available to help families offset the cost of child care, then I think you’re going to have more and more families making these really incredibly tough decisions,” she said.

Alicia Mujica is a local mother of three. While she says she has not had to make that tough decision, it has been a conversation.

“Even without the pandemic it’s always hard as a working mom to try to focus on your career and then focus on home life, but that extra added pandemic just makes it ten times harder to have solutions for childcare,” said Mujica.

Many of those solutions need to come fast, for example: if your child’s class or daycare suddenly closes due to a positive COVID case.

“You have to put band aids on the child care situation all the time. It’s not a constant. You can’t count on it,” she said.

When she does find a solution, she says the payments are cutting deeper into her wallet.

“At the end of the day after you pay all the child care and tuition and all that, it’s like, ‘what am I even bringing home?’ Really I’m just keeping my space and my relevance in the career that I’ve chosen,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says child care is affordable if it is no more than 7% of a family’s income. Looking at the latest data from the Economic Policy Institute, it shows child care in Arizona is expensive.

On average, infant care costs nearly $10,948 a year. Child care for a four-year-old is $8,574 a year. With that in mind, the institute says less than 10% of families in Arizona, can truly afford infant care.

For many women, the cost is too great and they are giving up their careers. However, that does not just mean a loss of income. For some, it means a loss of benefits like health care or 401K contributions.

“This isn’t a short two year problem,” said Gabriel. “This is a lifelong problem. These resources compound over time.”

Gabriel adds, traditionally when women leave and return to the workforce, they often do not get to pick up exactly where they left off. Now, with the pandemic, even coming back is a challenge.

“When you see statistics like two out of three women want to come back into the workforce full time and get back their jobs, then we need to be having that conversation of how do we facilitate that? And it all goes back to basics of parental leave, child care access and having those resources available,” said Gabriel.

So, how do we stop this trend and fix the problem? Gabriel believes legislation would help but businesses also need to reevaluate the needs of their employees.

“What COVID has shown very clearly is that you cannot segment your family out of your work,” she said. “I hope organizations realize that this is a unique opportunity to really invest in their employees to build up a strong workforce, build up a social capital in their employees and they themselves offer these kinds of support of flexible scheduling, of keeping remote work, of flexible hours, of childcare, of paid leave.”

She says all of these things will help create a more robust workforce where employees can work and are not working to the point of burnout.

As for Mujica, she says she is keeping a positive attitude as she adjusts to the ever-changing new normal.

“There are times where it does feel hopeless but I’m always somebody that moves forward and we have to be able to do that,” she said.

It is also important to note, while many families struggle to pay for child care, many child care workers are also struggling to get by. E.P.I. reports many child care workers in Arizona cannot afford to put their own child in infant care as it would cost around 45% of their earnings.

There are resources to help women and families struggling with many of these issues.

Here are some helpful links:

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