Among the weaknesses within American society exposed by the COVID pandemic, almost none has emerged more starkly than the government’s failure to provide meaningful and affordable childcare to working families—and, in particular, to working women. As the pandemic unfolded in the spring of 2020, state and local governments shuttered schools and daycare facilities and directed nannies and other babysitters to “stay at home.” Women quickly found themselves filling this domestic void, providing the overwhelming majority of childcare, educational support for their children, and management of household duties, often to the detriment of their careers. As of March 2021, more than 5 million American women had lost their jobs, with 2.3 million women no longer even looking for work. Countless other women continue to struggle with the unsustainable demands of performing their paid jobs while simultaneously providing close to full-time domestic services at home. On all of these metrics, women of color have found themselves even more acutely affected.
Importantly, this need not have been the case: With a reasonable amount of planning and expense, federal, state, and local governmental resources could have been mobilized to create a solution to this crisis. By establishing and providing funding for “learning pods” throughout the country, the government could have served the needs of countless working families (especially working mothers) by filling this childcare void, while also providing employment assistance to a host of other workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. In fact, the government could have turned to its own experience—providing childcare to working mothers during World War II and continuing to operate high-quality and affordable childcare for military families today—to deliver this type of childcare assistance to all families currently in need. In declining to do so, the government not only has exacerbated the COVID crisis for innumerable working families, but also has further relegated women to the professional sidelines—a decision destined to have immeasurable and long-term consequences for millions of working women, for the organizations that employ them, and for society as a whole.
Jessica Fink, Sidelined Again: How the Government Abandoned Working Women Amidst a Global Pandemic, 2022 ULR 469 (2022) doi:10.26054/0d-57cw-fxx7