DENVER, Colo. — We’ve seen signs of an economic recession because of COVID-19, but now experts say a 'she-cession' is happening too. Moms are leaving the workforce in droves, but it's not by choice. The pandemic is forcing families to recalibrate and adjust to a new normal.
Amanda Splitt is one mom in the midst of this new normal. For years, she always enjoyed the juggling act of being a working mom.
“I've always known that I was not meant to be a stay-at-home mom,” she said.
But seemingly overnight, she became one.
“I then got a call from my job that they were laying off about fifty percent of the company, and I was going to be one of those layoffs,” said Splitt. “So, that was kind of the beginning.”
She recalls the roller coaster of emotions she felt after hearing the news.
“It was, you know, 10 years that I have been working and working my way up in the industry to then just be gone,” said Splitt. “I remember kind of getting the call and sort of falling to the floor and just being like, ‘What does this mean for me?’”
For the next few months, she focused solely on helping her daughter with school.
“As heartbreaking as it was to lose my career, there was also a part of me that felt immense relief, because trying to do that remote work from home and remote learning with Madison was almost impossible,” she said, reminiscing on all the interrupted meetings and questions her grade school daughter had during the school day at home.
Still, Splitt wanted to be an equal provider with her husband for their family.
“I'm using my savings, but now, I'm not replacing my savings," she said. "And then, it’s putting pressure on your spouse to go, ‘OK, we're going to do this and we had to do it as a team.'”
While she and her husband re-budgeted to function as a one income household, Splitt applied to job after job. Yet, during the process, she kept asking herself one question: does it even make sense right now?
“Because if I can't give myself to a company the same way I could before, and still to my family who needs that additional support, then it’s kind of having to choose between and going, 'Well, family's going to win every single time.'"
The Splitt family’s struggle is one mothers across the country are facing.
“We are at stake of losing generations of progress for the working woman in our country,” said Kristin Strohm, the president and CEO of the Common Sense Institute in Colorado.
Nicole Riehl and Kristin Strohm are working moms themselves and studying how the pandemic is hurting women in the workforce.
“We know that in the Great Recession, our last major recession as a country, women accounted for 30 percent of the jobs lost. Flash forward to today: women this last year have lost over 55 percent of the total jobs,” said Strohm. “We've dubbed this the ‘she-cession.’”
Across the country, 4.6 million women are out of work. Two million are still unemployed, but the other 2.6 million women report they’ve stopped looking for jobs because of demands at home.
“At a certain point, women that are sidelined say, ‘I can't even re-enter. I'm so far behind,’” said Strohm. “If they leave for even a short period of time, they're less likely to be looked at for that raise or promotion.”
Strohm said the end of last year was a breaking point for women in the workforce.
"In December, women accounted for 100 percent of the net job loss for the month, as women lost 140,000 jobs, whereas men gained 16,000 jobs," she said.
“I know a lot of moms who have just kind of gone, ‘This is my reality right now, and it's not going to be our reality forever.’ But I think it's just, we felt like we needed to step up,” said Splitt.
The cost of child care is the reason half of parents who left the workforce during the pandemic haven’t gone back yet.
Riehl said a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Report from the fall of 2020 reported that 32 percent of employers had lost employees and when asked what factors drove employees' decisions to leave the workforce, half cited childcare concerns.
“Things like flexible schedules or remote working options are really helpful for working parents,” said Nicole Riehl, President and CEO of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, or EPIC.
Riehl is working to develop actionable solutions for companies to help families get back into the workforce.
“It's also critical that companies normalize a culture that supports working families," she said.
"According to a 2020 McKinsey report, mothers are 1.5 times more likely than fathers to be spending an extra three or more hours a day on housework and child care—equivalent to 20 hours a week, or half a full-time job," said Riehl. "Having to adapt to a remote, hybrid, or in-person learning schedule placed mothers at a significant disadvantage. Many mothers found continuing to work unattainable. For mothers of young children, the financial cost of early child care may no longer be feasible with reduced hours, the loss of an income in the household, and child care program closures."
Having a supportive workplace is even more critical to Splitt with her second baby on the way.
“As much as I loved working and being in the workplace and doing corporate America, the normal was not normal,” said Splitt. “It was not what I want to necessarily go back to. I don't want to work 50 to 60 hours a week. I don't want to have to choose between am I there for my family or am I there for work?”
So, for now, Splitt is staying home and doing some tax work when she can to help. She’s also going back to school to finish her degree, making the most of this unexpected turn in her career. She’s finding that this different sense of normalcy can be a good thing.
“I think there will definitely be some type of work in my future,” said Splitt. “I just have not decided what that looks like yet, but I think at this point in the pandemic, I'm finally a little bit hopeful for what the future holds.”