Women struggle to regain footing in U.S. job market

Katy McAvoy thought that she'd have more time to search for jobs after her daughter started in-person kindergarten in November.

But the school near Grand Rapids, Michigan closed just a week later as COVID-19 infections surged.

"To try to find a full-time job is very difficult because it feels like you can't possibly be the great candidate because you need all these exceptions for your child's schedule."

The unpredictable situation made it difficult for McAvoy -- who was laid off in November from her job with a local arts organization -- to find time for interviews and networking.

So even though school opened again in January, McAvoy decided to stop searching.

"You disclosing you have kids opens up a whole another pile of craziness that is, you know, again, like if you're up against someone of comparable skillset who doesn't have kids, I feel like you don't stand a chance."

McAvoy is not alone. After being hit disproportionately by pandemic-related job losses last year, women in the United States are struggling to get back to work, threatening to undo some of the economic gains women made before the pandemic.

In total, more than 2.5 million women left the labor force between February 2020 and January of this year, compared to 1.8 million men.

Especially hard-hit: women with children.

When Alisha Zucker has job interviews, she tries not to bring up that she is a parent.

"I'm worried that I will be judged for having to take care of my kids, or maybe they'll think that I'm unreliable. So I try not to mention it, even though I think it's a huge asset. Moms get stuff done."

Zucker - spent more than 10 years working in educational publishing, but after being laid off in September, the New York City mom now freelances as she looks for a full-time job.

But for the mother of seven-year old boy and girl twins and a three-year-old boy, finding long periods of time to work uninterrupted in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City has been difficult, especially with school for her kids alternating frequently between in-person and virtual.

"Looking for a job as a full-time job and requires a lot of momentum. And so I feel like there's a lot of stopping and starting that. I don't get to really focus as much as I would like."

So what will it take to get women back to work? Flexibility.

According to a research paper published in February by the San Francisco Federal Reserve, for jobs with easily adjustable work schedules, such as positions in management, the ratio of mothers working did not change significantly during the pandemic.

But for occupations with stricter schedules, women with children saw a "pronounced decline" in employment compared to women without.

Video Transcript

- Katie McAvoy thought that she'd have more time to search for jobs after her daughter started in-person kindergarten in November, but the school near Grand Rapids, Michigan closed just a week later as COVID-19 infections surged. To try to find a full time job is very difficult, because it feels like you can't possibly be the great candidate. Because you need all these exceptions for your child's schedule, and then--

- And it's like the days you're not letting me got to school.

- Yeah, she doesn't like it when the days don't let her go to school.

- The unpredictable situation made it difficult for McAvoy, who was laid off in November from her job with a local arts organization, to find time for interviews and networking. So even though school opened, again, in January, McAvoy decided to stop searching.

- Disclosing you have kids opens up a whole other pile of craziness that is-- you know, again, if you're up against someone of comparable skill set, who doesn't have kids, I feel like you don't stand a chance.

- McAvoy is not alone. After being hit disproportionately by pandemic related job losses last year, women in the United States are struggling to get back to work, threatening to undo some of the economic gains women made before the pandemic. In total, more than two and a half million women left the labor force between February 2020 and January of this year compared to 1.8 million men. Especially hard hit, women with children. When Alisha Zucker has job interviews, she tries not to bring up that she's a parent.

- Because I'm worried that I will be judged for having to take care of my kids, or maybe they'll think that I'm unreliable. So I try not to mention it, even though, I think, it's a huge asset. Moms get stuff done.

- Zucker spent more than 10 years working in educational publishing. But after being laid off in September, the New York City mom now freelances as she looks for a full time job. But for the mother of seven-year-old boy and girl twins and the three-year-old boy, finding long periods of time to work uninterrupted in a two bedroom apartment in New York City has been difficult, especially with school for her kids alternating frequently between in-person and virtual.

- Looking for a job is a full time job and requires a lot of momentum. So I feel like there's a lot of stopping and starting that I don't get to really focus as much as I would like.

- So what will it take to get women back to work? Flexibility. According to a research paper published in February by the San Francisco Federal Reserve, for jobs with easily adjustable work schedules, such as positions in management, the ratio of mothers working did not change significantly during the pandemic. But for occupations with stricter schedules, women with children saw a pronounced decline in employment compared to women without.