After more than two years away from the job market, Qynisha Jordan returned to work this summer. It’s a welcome change, after spending most of the pandemic with her children.
“The best part is definitely having conversations and adult interactions with adults,” said Jordan, a key account manager at PepsiCo in Atlanta. “That’s great.”
Jordan was one of more than 2 million women who left their jobs when the pandemic hit, and like many, it took her time before going back.
Some women have worked in restaurants or classrooms that have yet to rehire laid-off staff. Others are busy caring for sick family members or, like Jordan, helping their children homeschool.
“I distinctly remember the school calling and saying they were closing. I’ve been home since then,” Jordan said. “It’s really hard. I have three kids doing three completely different things at the same time. That’s a lot.”
In the months when women dropped out of the labor force in large numbers, economists, businesses and policymakers began to worry that they would never return, creating labor shortages that could hamper economic recovery. But nearly two and a half years after the coronavirus first hit, the number of working-age women in the job market has finally returned to pre-pandemic levels.
“Women have a very tough life with their kids working from home and school so uncertain,” said University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson. “But we’re seeing that the pandemic doesn’t have women’s attachment to the workforce. cause permanent damage.”
Now they’re back because schools are open, COVID concerns are easing, and prices have soared
As of August, more than 49 million women aged 25 to 54 were working or looking for work. This is slightly more than the number of women in the workplace in February 2020. The return of black and Latino women is particularly pronounced.
A number of factors may have contributed to the rebound. More reliable in-person education has undoubtedly allowed some mothers to return to work. Others may have already done so because the public health outlook has improved.
On a less positive note, Stevenson suspects that high inflation may force some women back into the job market.
“People are being driven by rising prices, and they’re thinking, ‘Ugh, my savings has been hit so hard,'” Stevenson said. “They don’t go out and spend money, they go back to work to make money.”
Jordan agrees that today’s high price makes her new job income especially welcome.
“It’s great to be getting paid for sure,” she said. “And, just having the opportunity to advance my career.”
Women and their families still face enormous challenges re-entering the workforce.Some industries that have traditionally employed large numbers of women — such as hospitality and healthcare — have yet to fully recover from the pandemic recession and some women People with these jobs had to explore new areas of work.
The shortage of affordable child care also remains a serious obstacle. There are now 74,000 fewer child care workers than before the pandemic.
As much as Jordan loves her new job, she still has to balance the needs of her children, including a 7-month-old.
“Even though I got back to work, it didn’t change my responsibilities at home,” Jordan said. “So I have two Work. ”
A new perspective on the old balance law
Of course, this isn’t a new balancing act, but one that working mothers have been grappling with for decades. During the pandemic, however, some women have taken a new approach.
“Gosh, so much has happened in the past two years,” Farida Mercedes said.
In the early months of the pandemic, Mercedes reluctantly quit her relationship job at L’Oreal to help homeschool her two young sons.
“My family needs me,” she told NPR at the time.
Mercedes missed the hustle and bustle of the business world and imagined that one day she might be back. But when her children resumed in-person schooling, Mercedes changed her mind.
“When I’m at work, I might have an hour in the morning with my kids, work all day, come home, maybe an hour and a half, maybe two hours if I let them go to bed late,” Mercedes recalled. “I missed everything.”
Mercedes chose to forgo the steady paycheck and retirement plan her previous job offered to start her own business. At first, she tried running a Dominican-themed food truck. When that didn’t work, she turned to running rental properties on Airbnb.
Mercedes says she now earns about 25 percent less than she did at L’Oreal, but she works significantly fewer hours and is more flexible.
“I love the fact that I can drop my kids off at school, I can pick them up, I can take them to basketball practice, I can play their games,” Mercedes said. “I can prioritize my days the way I want, not the way my boss wants me.”
Because she’s self-employed, Mercedes’ job doesn’t appear on the Labor Department’s list of working women. But a similar adjustment could see many women rejoin the job market.
“We need to adapt to the new normal,” economist Stevenson said. “Maybe one of the reasons we’re seeing people going back to work is that they’ve been trying to figure out how to adjust, and they’re drawing some conclusions about how to do that — how to balance it all.”
While she never anticipated the shift, Mercedes said she was grateful for the opportunity to reassess her priorities.
“While there have definitely been struggles over the past two years, in some ways this pandemic has been a blessing to me,” she said. “It’s a blessing.”
Copyright 2022 NPR. To view more information, visit https://www.npr.org.
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