For the past four years, Amanda Potter has learned to navigate life as a single parent to her son Davey.
A job with plenty of rewards, but one that’s become even more challenging during the pandemic.
“Just knowing that, if I get sick, who takes care of him?” Amada Potter said.
It’s why Amanda has been especially careful.
“I actually at the beginning of the pandemic kept my son home with me for a limited time, kept him home from day care just to keep him safe and healthy,” Potter said.
But that precautionary measure has brought a huge shift in her work-life balance.
“I was also working at the same time, so it was really challenging to try to do both childcare and working,” Potter said.
Interruptions are a common occurrence in her new work-from-home life.
“The hardest part was the meetings, I’m in a very meeting heavy job, at first he didn’t understand why he couldn’t just come in and interrupt and ask me a question and interact with me,” Potter said.
At the start of the pandemic, caring for Davey during the day meant working longer, odd hours.
“So I had to end up working more on the evenings and on weekends,” Potter said.
But with a toddler home all day, her workload at home also grew.
“Even just preparing meals for him in the day, where normally I wouldn’t have to do that, or thinking about that when normally I didn’t have to think about that. I feel like there was a lot of mental exhaustion on top of the physical just because there was so much to think about,” Potter said.
Augustana Sociology professor Kelci Vercel says even prior to the pandemic, many researchers in her field studied the second shift of household many women in the labor force deal with.
“Even in households where both parents are working full time, women are doing much more,” Vercel said.
While that household labor gap has lessoned in recent years, the pandemic has meant some major changes for working women.
“Which is in September, women left the workforce, left the workforce, not just their job or business closed, but left the workforce at 4 times the rate of men,” Vercel said.
Since school started again this fall, many families are now faced with distance learning.
“Which means someone needs to be at home, we know many daycare childcare places are closed or very limited, so it really looks like women are leaving jobs to meet that gap, and leaving their jobs at much much higher rates than men are,” Vercel said.
Now Davey is back in day care, allowing Amanda to focus on working from home.. which is getting easier.
“Just having a really supportive job was key, and having co workers going through the same thing, bosses going through the same thing,” Potter said.
Professor Vercel says that isn’t the case for many working moms.
“A lot of women are employed in service industry jobs where things like working from home are just not possible,” Vercel said.
From retail to daycares, service workers and assistants, many fields largely occupied by women are some of the hardest hit by the pandemic–and some of the lowest-paying jobs.
“If we’re looking at a couple and you have two earners in the couple, often times women are making less than what their husband is making,” Vercel said.
Vercel says that was likely a deciding factor when faced with a choice of who stays home with the kids–but now she and other sociologists are concerned about the potential long term impacts.
“The progress that’s been made over the decades, how much is this going to set us back, as far as women really attaining high levels of career success. And what that’s going to mean for inequality in the labor market for decades down the road,” Vercel said.
While the pandemic’s outlook on women in the workforce may be bleak — Amanda says there are some positives she’s gained from this experience.
“I think the biggest thing that has changed, is that while i still have a lot more work and a lot more stress, I’ve learned to ask for help and to find ways for people to help me,” Potter said.
Support she hopes working women will continue even after the threat of covid is gone.
Vercel says sociologists are actively studying the continued impact the pandemic is having on working women and families–data we will know much more about over the next decade.