The Child Care Crisis
UML Prof Explores the Challenges Faced by Working Moms During COVID-19
Working parents understand the immense pressures of life during the pandemic. For many of them, their financial, psychological and parental support systems eroded almost overnight. Beth Humberd, an associate professor in UML’s Manning School of Business, studies gender and the changing nature of the workplace. Her research reveals that working moms are in particular jeopardy as child care options have become limited. “This will set back decades of progress for working women,” Humberd says of the current crisis. “For families, this is far more than a temporary situation, particularly as the options for fall school and aftercare programs are also in limbo.”
Many married partners have dual careers that rely upon child care support systems such as full-time schooling, afterschool facilities, day cares, or summer camps. Now, since the novel coronavirus has shuttered many child care facilities (or only allowed them to open recently under great restrictions), and extended family are playing a much more limited role due to heath concerns, finding a healthy balance between employment and child care support is extraordinarily difficult.’
Humberd is herself a working mom, with two young children. On the topic of balance within her own family, Humberd notes, “We are really struggling, and I know there are families in much tougher circumstances than we are right now.”
It seems nearly impossible to envision a resolution of these difficulties any time soon, and this has left some parents wondering if they are able to maintain both a career and family. Some mothers have already left their jobs or have greatly reduced their work hours. Unfortunately, as Humberd notes, “When women leave a job, particularly during a time of economic downturn, it can set back their career immensely.”
Given the depth of the problem, is there anything to be done? Humberd suggests that in the absence of a more coordinated policy response, organizations will need to take more responsibility for helping working parents navigate this uncertain time. Now, more than ever, organizations will need to foster a culture in which flexibility is the norm and employees are trusted to be doing their best, she says. Some employers are already being creative, finding ways to give employees more options for compensated time off, including some company-wide policies that allow all employees to take Fridays off, for example.
Without an appropriate and widespread response involving a multitiered approach, working parents, and mothers in particular, may be left struggling to return to prepandemic levels of economic stability for years to come.