In the United States, women contribute more than $21 billion to the nation’s gross domestic profit (GDP) each and every day. In Canada, women contribute twice as much to the GDP as the oil and gas sectors — which often get propped up with public policies and federal support. And yet, despite the economic importance of women in the workforce, neither country is doing much to support working mothers who are faltering under the weight of caring for family members and working during a pandemic.
“The economy will not recover without moms,” Tammy Schirle, an economics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, told Refinery29. “If they don’t get back to work, families are going to have to start cutting back their spending. Moreover, losing such a large part of our tax base would make it even harder to pay back the debt taken on to manage this public health crisis.”
Women’s jobs — which are overrepresented in industries like hospitality and dining — have been heavily impacted by coronavirus. More women than men have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, according to the Pew Research Center. Women with less education, immigrants and women of color are the most vulnerable — Hispanic women are more likely than any other group to have lost their jobs.
Writing for Time, Senator Tammy Duckworth — a mom of two young children — advocated for policies including increased family leave and universal pre-kindergarten, which would help make the burden of childcare more bearable for families.
“These are matters of both common decency and common sense—steps we have no choice but to take if we want to overcome this pandemic and finally make our economy work for everyone,” Duckworth wrote.
Despite the evidence for such programs, governments in the U.S. and Canada have been slow to adopt them. Schirle said this just doesn’t make sense, when people from both sides of the political aisle are willing to invest in other programs that boost the economy.
“I find the lack of investment incredibly surprising. In past recessions we’ve seen governments willing to spend billions more to help save much smaller numbers of jobs in male-dominated fields like construction and manufacturing,” she said.
Many families were hoping that things would go back to normal a bit once schools reopened, but in many areas schooling is remote — meaning that the burden on moms has no end in sight. During the pandemic, parents report spending 27 additional hours a week on childcare and household responsibilities; unsurprisingly, much of that falls on women, who spend an average of 15 more hours a week on domestic responsibilities than men do.
Although many working moms are just trying to survive right now, it’s important to recognize that the pandemic could have long-standing implications for women’s equality. The United Nations published a report back in March cautioning that progress toward women’s equality could be undermined by the pandemic.
“We could have an entire generation of women who are hurt,” Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, told The New York Times in June. “They may spend a significant amount of time out of the work force, or their careers could just peter out in terms of promotions.”
Mallory McMaster, an Ohio mom of a 2-year-old, spoke with The New York Times and summed up the overwhelmed feeling that many moms — especially single moms and those in marginalized communities — are feeling.
“Everyone’s scheduling all of these calls and meetings and planning sessions because they want to hit the ground running,” she said. “This would be a great time for businesses like mine to scale up, but I don’t have the time to find new clients, to update my website, because I don’t have child care. It’s hindering me in a lot of ways that are going to last much longer than the shutdown.”