Women on the Front Lines at Home
The COVID-19 crisis has drastically changed the way households operate. At best, it has meant scrambling to find child care following school closures. At worst, it has meant taking time off from work to care for a sick family member. In the United States, that often requires taking that time without any pay.
These changes have both exposed and exacerbated deeply-ingrained gender imbalances — forcing women to bear the brunt of unpaid household labor and family care.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, women worked the “second shift”
Women are now a majority of the U.S. workforce — but in addition to their paid employment, they still take on the majority of unpaid household labor and care work. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, women shouldered a disproportionate amount of unpaid labor related to the health and well-being of their loved ones in comparison to their male counterparts.
Longstanding research has shown that women in opposite-sex partnerships do more of the domestic work and child-related planning — even in dual-earning couples and when the woman makes more money. Eighty percent of single-parent households are headed by mothers, who assume the unpaid labor in their households. In total, women spend 102 more hours a year than men on unpaid chores and family care and black caregivers spend an average of 28.5 more hours per month caregiving than white caregivers.
COVID-19 has created a “third shift” — disproportionately shouldered by women
Now, as COVID-19 forces schools to close, businesses to shutter, and hospitals to ration care, many women have to do even more with even less, creating a veritable “third shift” that endangers everyone’s health and well-being.
The public health crisis is poised to overwhelm hospitals — putting the burden on caregivers to care for their loved ones. Sixty percent of caregivers are women, meaning many women are taking care of sick relatives and children — all while working paying jobs to make ends meet.
I feel like I have five jobs: mom, teacher, CCO, house cleaner, and chef.
Sarah Joyce Willey
chief client officer for a health services company and mother of two.
Better workplace policies are key to leveling the field in this crisis — and making us more resilient in the future
Because of gender and racial disparities, such as the pay gap and the paid leave gap, women are more economically vulnerable and insecure during times of economic uncertainty.
The United States is one of only two OECD countries in the world that does not guarantee workers paid leave for personal illness. Today, 32 million workers in the U.S. don’t have access to a single paid sick day. And lower-wage workers — caregivers, restaurant servers, and those who directly interact with the public — are the workers least likely to have paid time off.
This is always an injustice, but especially so during a global pandemic. No one should fall into financial ruin or experience hardship simply because they need to take time off from work to care for a new child, tend to an ill family member, recover from an injury, or help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Congress can step up and pass legislation that immediately — and permanently — provides all working people with paid sick days and paid family leave to care for sick loved ones.