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Poor Social Safety Net Pushes Women From The Workforce Amid Pandemic

Bloomington Developmental Learning Center

Many women are leaving the workforce — voluntarily and involuntarily — to focus on childcare and domestic labor at home. (Kirma Swords Schulz, WFIU/WTIU)

During the pandemic, many Indiana women have fallen through the country’s social safety net and had to leave work to pick up the slack at home.

Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at IU, found that 39% of southern Indiana mothers interviewed  reported increased frustration with their partners due to lack of perceived support, and many have given up their careers to support their families. But doing so can make them dangerously dependent.

“Even before the pandemic, our social safety net in the U.S. for families was weak and broken,” Calarco said. “Then the pandemic came along and just ripped a giant hole through what was left in that safety net. And moms are the ones who have primarily been left holding the threads.”

Research by the Boston Consulting Group says, while mothers and fathers have both assumed additional child-rearing responsibilities amid the pandemic, women spend an average of 15 hours more on domestic labor each week compared to men.

READ MORE: Indiana Unemployment Rate Falls, But So Does Labor Force

Many women are leaving the workforce — voluntarily and involuntarily — to focus on this labor, according to Calarco. That means sacrificing their incomes, access to individual health insurance, and independence from their husbands.

“Women are being pushed out of the workforce because of this lack of support from their partners. We might see devastating economic consequences for mothers, for families, for gender equality in the workplace, for potentially decades to come,” Calarco said.

As women leave the workforce, some lose the ability to leave dangerous situations. Calarco recounted a woman her team interviewed who was sexually assaulted by her husband but couldn’t leave him because she had left her job and health insurance to look after her child. Now, she’s pregnant from the assault and has no option but to stay.

What can be done to protect mothers during the pandemic?

Mothers need access to health insurance, childcare, and income that doesn’t depend on a job, according to Calarco. Pre-pandemic research indicates that mothers without their own sources of income or health insurance are less likely to divorce partners on who they depend.

“The lack of a safety net in our society for mothers is not only potentially pushing more couples to divorce,” Calarco said, “but also, potentially making it more difficult for mothers to leave circumstances they might otherwise want to.”

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here. 

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