In recent weeks, there have been ongoing conversations in our community about workforce shortages and what might be causing them. The problem spans industries, and its effects are widespread.
Though conservative media likes to blame emergency COVID-19 relief for workforce shortages, the situation is more complex than that; in most cases, expanded unemployment benefits still fall short of what a worker would bring home with a full-time salary. Many institutions—including J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and the Tobin Center for Economic Policy at Yale University—have found that unemployment insurance benefits have little or no effect on the total number of people who are unemployed. And if the problem were truly that simple, wouldn’t a workforce shortage only impact the industries that pay the least?
We do know that women have been squeezed out of the workforce: 1.7 million women left the workforce during the pandemic (see Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2021, seasonally adjusted labor force by gender). Women were also more likely to be laid off than their male counterparts, and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) women were even more likely to be laid off than their white counterparts. This is ironic, as one study from McKinsey & Co. actually found that prior to the pandemic, women were actually less likely to leave the workforce than their male peers.
According to survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a lack of child care is the number one reason non-retired women are not working. Most parents know that finding child care is hard, and that finding child care that’s not prohibitively expensive is even harder. During the pandemic, the need for child care exploded as students were sent home to learn remotely. Even now, without a guarantee that our schools and day care providers will stay open on any given week, many moms feel they can’t seek out jobs if they will inevitably have to leave them to supervise a child who is doing remote learning. The Rochester City School District’s recent struggles to provide reliable busing for students is just one local example of how complicated it is for a parent to feel confident they can return to regular work.
Thus, stabilizing our workforce is dependent on several factors. We must make investments to make affordable child care accessible to the working parents who need it, and manage COVID-19 to reduce the expanded need for child care. This will require us to work toward fully vaccinating our communities and providing women and families with the security they need to return to work.
In the state Senate, I will fight for a budget that invests in our families, providing schools and child care providers the resources they need to remain open and accessible. I also implore our employers to be more flexible during this time of transition: Our modern economy needs to include remote work, flexible hours, and a work-life balance as parents wear more hats than ever.
Sen. Samra Brouk, a Democrat, represents the 55th District.