Add COVID to a Childcare Desert and Women are left Jobless

Oregon Employment Department finds there is a significant difference between unemployment rates for men and unemployment rates for women, and lack of access to childcare in Oregon is fueling that.  

The Oregon Employment department released figures on Wednesday showing joblessness in Oregon. Oregon’s jobs rose by 5,1000 and unemployment fell from 8.5 percent in August to 8.0 percent in September.  

The unemployment rate for men was 6.7 percent, and the unemployment rate for women was 9.6 percent.  

While the Great Recession impacted jobs where men are overrepresented such as home construction and financial services, the current recession is doing the opposite. It is hitting service industries, and in many of which women are overrepresented. 

Gail Krumenauer of the Oregon Employment Department told OregonLive, “This time around we’re seeing those disproportionate impacts happening in sectors that are more likely to employ women. 

Women comprised 80 percent of people who left the workforce, according to an analysis the National Women’s Law Center conducted on data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

While some lost their jobs, others are leaving their jobs to care for their children or other family responsibilities.  

The beginning of the school year, and the distance learning that came along with it, added extra pressure.  

“What we’re seeing is a high degree of stress and challenge for caregivers and parents,” said Andrea Paluso, executive director of Family Forward Oregon, an organization that advocates for Oregon families and caregivers, in a statement to OregonLive. “Often that labor of caregiving falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women. There were a lot of women who were in and out of the workforce before COVID because of their caregiving responsibilities. They just have even fewer resources to manage those responsibilities now.” 

In March, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to help caregivers during the pandemic. While the program requires that employers provide paid sick leave, or extend leave for those that need to quarantine or take care of now-home schoolchildren, employers with under 50 employees can request to be exempt and it doesn’t apply to employers with over 500 employees.  

Additionally, Oregon has a lack of available and affordable childcare. Pre-pandemic, every county was a “childcare desert” for infants and children up to two-years-old, including Benton County, and 25 out of 36 counties were deserts for preschoolers, according to a study conducted in 2019 by researchers at Oregon State University for Oregon Early Learning Division. A childcare desert, as defined by the study, is a community with more than three children for every one regulated childcare slot.  

Miriam Calderon, the state’s Early Learning System director, estimates that childcare slots in Oregon have decreased by half since the beginning of the pandemic.  

Those thinking about leaving their job to care for their children can apply for unemployment insurance through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which aids those who may be ineligible for other unemployment benefits, like people who must stay home to care for children during the pandemic 

The benefits are limited, as enhanced benefits offered by the federal government expired in July, and the PUA itself will expire at the end of the year.  

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, as well as other state officials and organizations throughout Oregon, have been advocating for more investment in childcare to aid mothers.   

In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills that would provide 60 billion dollars to aid the childcare industry, but they are stalled in the Senate.  

Increased public spending on childcare won’t arrive soon enough. Without action, Paluso worries that more women will leave the workforce, which could set them back significantly and affect the workforce for a long time to come.  

“We need healthy thriving families to have a healthy thriving economy,” Paluso said. “We get healthy thriving families on the backs of a lot of women’s labor and we’ve yet to prioritize supporting that or recognizing it or valuing it in any real meaningful way. I think we’re seeing the consequences of that now.” 

By: Hannah Ramsey