BY FREDA MIKLIN – GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
It will shock nobody that when children stopped being able to go to school or day care because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it impacted the jobs and careers of more mothers than fathers.
On May 6, Saja Hindi, politics reporter for the Denver Post, moderated a panel discussion sponsored by the Common Sense Institute (CSI) that did a deep dive into the short and long-term impact of the pandemic on the challenges faced by women in the work force, especially during the past year. The panelists also looked at the bigger question of what is necessary to remove the roadblocks for working women to achieve their potential and maximize their unique contribution to the workplace.
Kristin Strohm, president and CEO of CSI, said that in 1958, women made up less than one-third of the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018, “57 percent of all women participated in the work force.” BLS also points to the significant increase in the education level of working women, noting, “from 1970 to 2018, the proportion of women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force who held a college degree quadrupled.”
Since the pandemic began, Strohm pointed out, women accounted for 55 percent of all jobs lost in our state. The overall workforce in Colorado is down 4.4 percent, compared to 1.7 percent nationally, she explained. As of March, Colorado’s unemployment rate remained flat at 6.4 percent. When asked why they were not working, the majority of Colorado moms said that it was because schools were closed.
When Ms. Hindi asked why Colorado is lagging behind the national recovery rate, Strohm noted that our state has the eighth highest cost of childcare in the nation. During the height of the pandemic last August, Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, said, “Economists have often treated work decisions in isolation from family decisions. But there’s no way to separate your life like that. Everything is really intertwined.”
Even before the pandemic, on the larger issue of the role of quality child care in the overall economy, Stevenson said, “The money we spend on…a high-quality child care program…they’re also providing a curriculum that helps children start to develop the skills they’re going to need to keep developing over their lifetime…Creativity is one of the most important skills in our modern economy. What we see is when you put kids through those types of early childhood child care centers that build skills, the kids come out with a broader set of skills and are more productive. They also come out as more cooperative members of society, less likely to participate in crime, less likely to be violent, less likely to have learning-related issues that we then spend more on in through K–12 education. So there are linkages here. We’ve already agreed we’re going to provide…K–12 education. A lot of people think of that as an entitlement program. I don’t. It’s investment. And I think we need to be thinking about child care in the same way.”
Panelist Nicole Riehl, president and CEO of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC), focusing on the past year, shared that moms are more likely than dads to spend 20 hours each week on helping kids with virtual homework and doing housework, which impacts their ability to return to their jobs. She also noted a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study that said that half of moms who didn’t return to work had childcare issues.
Panelist Kristin Blessman, president and CEO of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, explained that 95 percent of businesses in this state are small businesses, so they might feel like they can’t help with childcare. She said, “If they work with groups like EPIC, we can help them find ways to do that…Large corporations are providing stipends and onsite care.”
Riehl added that the National Women’s Law Center has said that expanding childcare options would increase the total number of working women by 17%, and 31% for those without a college degree. She explained, “Women are a very productive segment of the workforce. They have lots of institutional knowledge. We want to eliminate barriers to them entering the workforce,” adding, “Child care has been an issue for a long time. In Colorado, there is one licensed spot for every three kids who need childcare, even though our population is growing.” She talked about two pieces of legislation that are being worked on currently, one to simplify the requirements for licensing in-home child care (HB21-1222) and another to support employers who want to provide child care (SB21-236).
Another important reason to get mothers back into the workplace, especially at high-level positions, is because of the unique perspective they provide. It was summed up by Kristin Blessman, who said, “When you have women in senior leadership and women on the board, you perform better financially as a corporation.”