Working parents faced additional childcare challenges when daycares closed or schools went online due to the pandemic. According to the Census Bureau, normally about 70% of mothers and 90% of fathers living with school-age children work. By April of last year, only 55% of mothers and 76% of fathers were working, shows the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

In April 2020, 55% of mothers with school-age children were working.

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As of February, that figure had risen to 65% for mothers and 85% for fathers. That left 10 million mothers and 3.7 million fathers not working — about 1.5 million more mothers and 900,000 more fathers than a year before. How has the pandemic affected working parents and childcare?

Young women living with kids are six times more likely than men to be out of work because of childcare.

In July 2020, a Federal Reserve survey showed that if schools did not return to in-person classes in the fall, 23% of working mothers expected to reduce their hours and 4% expected to stop working altogether. This was more than working fathers, 15% of whom thought they would reduce hours and 2% of whom believed they would stop working.

The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which asks if and why Americans are not working, can help shed light on the pandemic’s true impact on parents. The latest release of microdata, from the edition of the survey ending March 1, shows that young mothers may have been particularly hard hit. The Household Pulse Survey does not ask specifically about being a parent, just if the respondent is living with children under 18. Still, the survey can give a general sense of how parents may be doing. Almost 15% of all women aged 25 to 44 with kids are currently not working because of childcare, compared to just over 2% of young men living with kids.

Almost 15% of young women with kids are currently not working because of childcare needs.

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A high of 16% of young women living with children were not working because of childcare from October 28 to November 9. While shutdowns and temporary layoffs in the spring of last year initially made furlough or job loss the most likely reason keeping women with kids out of work, childcare has been the predominant reason since mid-June.

What role do childcare costs play?

As of March 1, 18% of young women with children in households making less than $25,000 per year before the pandemic were out of work because of childcare. That number was 15% for young women with kids in families making more than $25,000 but less than $100,000. Meanwhile, 8% of those in households with an income over $100,000 were out of work because of childcare.

About 18% of low-income young women with kids are out of work because of childcare, compared to 8% of high-income women.

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There are several possible reasons behind this. For example, this could suggest that the cost of childcare has been more of an issue during the pandemic than availability, with higher-income households better able to afford personal sitters or other childcare options that mitigated the risk COVID-19. This may also relate to differences between front-line essential positions and jobs that converted to remote work. While working from home and caring for children is difficult, it is not possible at all for a mother to watch her kids if she still has to physically leave the house. Young women living in households with kids where someone was able to start teleworking during the pandemic were the least likely to be out of work because of childcare — at 9% as of March 1, compared to 16% for households that had teleworked before COVID-19 and 19% for households that did not start teleworking.

Only 9% of women living in households with children and someone who started teleworking due to COVID-19 are out of work because of childcare.

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Childcare concerns affect women with and without spouses.

Overall, childcare is taking young women with children out of the workforce at similar rates, regardless of marital status. As of February 15, 13% of all married young women living with kids and the same percentage of widowed or unmarried ones were not working because of childcare. The rate for divorced or separated women with children was 12%. As of March 1, those figures were 15%, 16%, and 9%, respectively.

How does this relate to the mental load on women?

As of March 1, the Household Pulse Survey also found that 39% of young women living with children reported experiencing anxiety more than half the days or almost every day. The figure was slightly lower for young men living with children, at 33%. Among all women and men surveyed, the rates were 35% and 29%.

Meanwhile, 47% of young women living with children reported any major symptom of anxiety or depression more than half the days or almost every day, compared to 41% of men. For all women and men, those figures were 43% and 37%, respectively.

That said, the difference may be more due to age than children. In fact, all women aged 25 to 44, with or without children, reported anxiety more than half the time at a rate of 42% and any major symptom at a rate of 50%.

Since the Household Pulse Survey only asks about the main reason for working, it does not show people who may have stopped working for other reasons but for whom childcare is nonetheless a significant burden or an obstacle to returning to work. In certain cases, being forced to leave a job for other reasons may turn childcare into a problem. According to a survey of employee benefits from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from March 2020, 11% of workers had access to childcare through their employer.

The recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act means that the federal government will spend $88 billion over the next decade on expanding the child tax credit and $43 billion on childcare and community support. Both provisions will increase the amount of support given to parents.

See more data on how the nation is faring at the COVID-19 Impact and Recovery Hub.

Household Pulse Survey Public Use Files
Economic Well-Being of US Households: July 2020 Results
National Compensation Survey