Many parents trying to return to the workforce have new demands for what their future job entails.
More want to find remote work, like single mom Cari Gerber who cares for her son attending virtual elementary school.
Others, like dad of two Michael Kidd, are choosing to go back to school over starting another minimum-wage job.
Caitlin Tolchin always imagined when she found out she was pregnant, she and her husband would find a clever way to craft a baby announcement. After all, she was an art director and creativity was her strong suit.
But in April 2020, within days of her positive home pregnancy test, Tolchin found herself sobbing on the floor of her New York City apartment. She just learned she'd been laid off from her job as art director at Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
"The timing couldn't have been worse. It really packed a punch. Here I was pregnant and now out of a job while the world was coming crashing down," the 38-year-old told Insider.
When COVID hit, Tolchin's department began working remotely. Within a few weeks, a mass email went out saying that business had taken a hit and staff reductions were imminent.
"Moments later, I got an email from HR that I'd been laid off and was shut out of my corporate email. After three years, that was it. No furlough, no two weeks notice, just like that, done," said Tolchin, adding that her furloughed supervisor did call to check in on her, but the damage was already done.
Tolchin says job recruiters told her no one would hire someone who'd need maternity leave that winter, so she put her job search on hold. But even after having her baby, she couldn't find a job. Now her daughter is 10 months old, and Tolchin says the job market for creatives still doesn't look promising.
"I've heard companies are outsourcing work to third-world countries and paying a fraction of the cost," Tolchin said. "I've sent out somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 to 300 resumes and only received about 5 calls, all for in-person work which I'm no longer interested in."
In the meantime, she says she plans to enroll in an online art class to build up her skill set. It hasn't been easy, though, because like 7.5 million other Americans, she also lost federal unemployment benefits in September.
Tolchin isn't alone in the desire for remote work flexibility, and a willingness to hold out for a job that's the right fit. A recent Insider survey showed 41% of women saying remote flexibility would attract them most in a job offer or incentivize them to expand their job search.
More professionals are considering switching careers
Forty-one year old divorced mom Cari Gelber says she toyed with the idea after being furloughed from her job in April 2020 at a New York-based video production company. She took the leap - twice.
"With my son home all day attending elementary school remotely, I looked for work I could do from home," Gelber told Insider.
Gelber soon found a remote, commission-based sales position through a former boss, but stayed on the hunt for something more stable. Several months later, she applied for a full-time remote position at Club Feast, a subscription-based restaurant delivery service. Thanks to her previous hospitality experience, she got the job and now works in the company's restaurant partnerships department.
Despite reopenings, not all hourly workers want to return to hospitality
Michael Kidd, a 29-year-old married father of two, was fired from his hourly food service position at Elon Musk's Texas-based company SpaceX in April 2021.
"When COVID hit, it was like the world was collapsing and there I was whipping up potatoes and gourmet meals in the employee cafeteria," Kidd told Insider. "I was working 55 to 70 hours a week and then coming home to help my pregnant wife put our 1-year-old son to bed."
Kidd says he was emotionally and physically drained, and it became a struggle to get out of bed each morning.
"I have ADHD and my work started to suffer," he said. "When I arrived at work late a few too many times, they fired me. They were right to do it, but it still stung," Kidd said.
In May, just one month after losing his job, Kidd's wife gave birth to their second son. Instead of looking for another in-person job, Kidd decided to look from work home toa help out more with the new baby.
"I started doing freelance content writing and went back to school to earn my Associates degree," said Kidd, who as an army veteran was also able to take advantage of the GI Bill for education costs as well as to assist with rent.
In July, Kidd contracted COVID-19 and was bedridden for a week. In August, Kidd's wife took a job as an assistant at a local dance studio to bring in extra money. Around the same time, the family's food stamps came to a stop after a caseworker requested paperwork Kidd was unable to provide. Now he says he has to refile in order to reopen his case.
"We're trying to keep up, but it's been touch and go at times financially. The stimulus checks bailed us out for a while, but it hasn't been easy," he said.
Like Kidd, unemployed parents across America are bracing themselves for another season of the pandemic, and hanging on by a thread.
"Just making the time to search for a job while caring for your family is a job unto itself. They say it takes a village, but because of COVID there is no village," Tolchin told Insider. "We're all on our own right now just trying to do our best."
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