Mothers are becoming 'time poor' during Covid: Economist

Misty Heggeness, U.S. Census Bureau Principal Economist, talks new report that says mothers of school-age children were more likely to leave the workforce during the pandemic.

Video Transcript

- I want to dig a little bit deeper into this because we heard President Biden there just a few moments ago speaking about the impact specifically for mothers in the pandemic. We've been talking a lot about this being a she-cession with the way that moms have been impacted. And for more on that, I want to bring on Misty Heggeness-- US Census Bureau Principal Economist joins us right now.

And Misty, I mean, you were just listening to Emily and President Biden walk through the numbers there in this report. Just your reaction to kind of the slowdown in what we saw in this big miss?

MISTY HEGGENESS: Yeah, thank you for having me. You know, I'm not surprised. With the rise of Delta, I think it's not surprising that the numbers aren't as great as we were expecting them to be. And I think that this is especially challenging for mothers who have and fathers who have their kids going back to school in the fall. And I'm particularly worried about the stall in leisure and hospitality because if you look at the data, it's really mothers with a high school diploma or less who just have not at all recovered since the beginning of the pandemic.

- Yeah, as Emily highlighted there, I mean, the slowdown, specifically in leisure and hospitality, rather shocking when you think about the fact that it's averaged 350,000 jobs per month over the last six months. To see that number unchanged-- pretty staggering but kind of speaks to what we saw on the Delta front. We've seen reservations at restaurants come down a bit too.

But you specifically have looked into the impact on mothers-- obviously, important enough for the president to kind of tease that out from the report here earlier, just a few moments ago. But your study kind of surprised me in digging into moms who had been telecommuting, those actually being impacted more than moms elsewhere in the economy. Talk to me about what you saw.

MISTY HEGGENESS: Right. So I think there's general consensus that as employers allow for more flexibility in work that that has the potential to bring in more mothers, more women, and particularly mothers, into the workforce. And telework and remote work is one of the key aspects of flexibility in the workforce. What I found in this new study that came out yesterday was really, when we're talking about the pandemic and we're talking about issues of child care and not having a safe, developmentally-appropriate space for our children to be in during the day, that that really hinders parents' ability to engage in the workforce, and particularly, mothers.

And so what I found is for mothers in telework-able occupations, that they were disproportionately leaving the workforce and disproportionately going on leave, compared both to women without dependent children and also compared to custodial fathers. And so, you know, telework, you know, in normal times is really a good thing for women. But I think that the piece here that can't get lost is that in order for flexible work to be beneficial for women, and particularly for mothers, we need to have a safe and developmentally-appropriate space for our children to be in while we work.

- Yeah, I mean, it seems surprising because you would think if you're able to telecommute here and work remote that you'd be fine to maybe watch the kids-- anyone who's been on a Skype call with teammates in this pandemic would know that it's very difficult to do that, though. And so I mean, twice as likely to leave as moms who are in jobs that weren't telecommuting-- I mean, is it just because, you know, it's hard to kind of juggle it all? Or what did you find there?

MISTY HEGGENESS: Yeah, I mean, it's exhausting. So I have two kids. And, you know, it's really exhausting to have to care for your children while at the same time doing your job. And so if you're in a job where you leave your home and you go out to that employer's site, you don't have to juggle two jobs of child care and the role that you play as a mother and a spouse along with your role as an employee, a supervisor, a coworker.

And so I think that for moms who, you know, experienced telework, the burden of it all was too much. You know, there's only 24 hours in a day. I'm really worried about the increasing inequalities that this will bring, not only in terms of earnings but also in terms of time. You know, mothers are becoming time poor during this pandemic.

- Yeah. And I mean, when we think about, I guess, where this goes, schools-- there are a lot of parents out there who have been cheering. All right, I'm gonna at least get my kid back into school. Maybe that will help here.

But as we've seen, I mean, the Delta variant is not going away right now. And there's a lot of concerns for what that could mean in terms of maybe schools getting opened but then having to go back remote. I mean, how big of an impact would that be? Because a lot of these models seem to be factoring in a perfect resolution to what we saw in terms of this peak. I mean, how bad could it get if you see a complete reversal back to the way things were?

MISTY HEGGENESS: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, the majority of economists agree that if you want to get this economy back on track, you really need to stomp out COVID. And that means stomping out this Delta variant. And to the extent that we're unable to do that, we're gonna continue to have these issues.

And so, you know, it is really important for people to go out and get vaccinated. You know, it's really important that we follow all of the public health recommendations around how we minimize the impact of the spread of this disease. And if we can't do that, then we're gonna continue to see these issues linger, and we're gonna continue to see this type of inequality both within homes and across different demographic groups expand.

- All right. US Census Bureau Principal Economist Misty Heggeness joining us there. Appreciate you taking the time to deliver some key insights there on something we've talked about the unequal impact here on the labor market and the big jobs miss we're seeing there.