Over 1.1 million workers aged 20 and over dropped out of the labor force last month. Of the workers who left the labor force, 865,000 were women. Women have disproportionately suffered pandemic-related job losses: since February 2020, women have lost nearly 5.8 million net jobs, which is roughly 54% of overall net job losses since the beginning of the pandemic.
In many ways, the workforce has failed women. While there are certainly many factors contributing to this harrowing statistic, today we are focusing on pregnancy and family laws as they relate to women in the labor force.
Currently, California allots up to four weeks of disability insurance for a “normal” pregnancy before the expected due date. After the pregnancy, women can receive up to six weeks for a normal delivery and eight weeks for a Cesarean section to recover form childbirth. After this, new mothers may be eligible to receive up to eight weeks of paid family leave bonding benefits to bond with her newborn. While this may seem like a wonderful and positive benefit, it truly pales in comparison to what other countries are offering to new mothers. For example, Canada offers seventeen weeks of paid maternity leave and the Czech Republic offers twenty-eight weeks of paid maternity leave. The key difference here is PAID leave. The US does not offer paid maternity leave AT ALL. This paid leave is supplemental to disability insurance a woman can receive.
Mothers are more likely than fathers to report significant career interruptions in order to attend to their families’ needs. Gender roles have taken far too long to change given labor force trends. While women represent nearly half the work force, they still devote more time than men to housework and childcare. For women who have chosen to defer starting a family until their careers are more established, there is more financial leeway, such as hiring a full-time nanny, housekeeper, chef, etc. But for women on the lower end of the socioeconomic chain, they have fewer options in terms of childcare and career options. This has resulted in a stark contrast between career-oriented women and family-oriented women.
Women in positions of power or with high-paying professional jobs (business executives, doctors, lawyers, and the like) have trended towards deferring starting a family until later in life, if at all. 33% of such women in the 41-55 age bracket are childless. This often does not arise out of choice. The brutal demands of ambitious careers simply do not allot time for children. For those that try to begin a family after attaining a successful job are compounded with fertility expenses and age complications of starting a family outside of a woman’s most fertile years.
Every day women make the choice to work or have a family. The absurdity of the situation can be blamed on inadequate family leave laws, gender roles, and the continuing inequity of career-driven women. Women are constantly challenged to perform at the level or exceed the level of their male counterparts but also must find time to find a suitable partner and have a family. In short, the competitive atmosphere of well-educated, working women does not support the pursuit of a family, whereas the same pursuit for a man lends itself to the traditional American dream of a working father and a stay-at-home mother and their two children.