Children return to child care at Greater Bergen County YMCA with appropriate social distancing measures in place.

WOODLAND PARK, NJ — Veronica Diaz grew plants, stocked inventory and guided customers through special events at her job at a garden center, but she hasn’t worked in months.

Like other parents, Diaz left her job to take care of a child after schools abruptly shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. She is eager to return, but with remote learning still in place this fall, that has not been an option.  

“I like my job,” said Diaz, 32. “I worked hard to be respected there and reliable. I didn’t want to have the excuse that I can’t do this and that because I’m a mom.”

Across the nation, mothers have had to make the difficult choice to slash work hours or quit jobs as they strain under child care and homeschooling obligations. Even when child care is available, many say they can’t afford it or worry about exposure to the virus.

Overall, women have been far more likely to leave their jobs during the pandemic. In September alone, about 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce, compared to 216,000 men, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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“This reflects the social norms and traditions around the globe. Women do more care work than men and have historically done that, even in higher-earning households,” said Yana Rodgers, faculty director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work.

Women are also more likely to leave work because of persistent wage gaps, meaning they typically earn less than their spouse, she said.

Setback for women, economy

At home, Diaz now spends days helping her 6-year-old son navigate websites and worksheets for first grade. While his school was scheduled to reopen this week, he’ll be able to attend only on alternating half days.

Paying for a caregiver “would have been everything I make,” Diaz said. Her husband is working overtime hours at his night-shift job changing restaurant filters because they are now a single-income household.

Cho Belmonte, a nurses aide from New Jersey, left her job at a rehabilitation center in April. She had no place for her children, ages 1 and 6, to go during the day. Her youngest was in child care, but she isn’t ready to send her back due to the health risk and the increased price of tuition. 

Nearly 40% of New Jersey parents said their child care costs had risen since June, according to a recent study. Providers say coronavirus precautions, including new group size restrictions, spacing requirements and protective equipment, have driven up costs.

“I’m depending on my husband’s salary and collecting unemployment, but right now it’s not really enough,” said Belmonte, 42, adding that she also sends money to her family in the Philippines.

The disruption has been so great that labor experts say it will likely affect women’s workforce participation and earnings for years to come.

When they are out of the workplace, women miss out on pay increases and advancement opportunities, while companies lose female leadership. And the longer they stay out, the harder it will be to return.

The situation is made more severe because many women – especially those of color – also were laid off in industries hard hit by the pandemic including retail, child care and restaurants, Rodgers said.

“This is widening disparities that were already present in the economy by not only gender, but also by race and class,” she said.

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Moms need job training, recruitment efforts and programs to boost employment in areas like child care, health care and teaching, Rodgers said. A massive move out of the workforce will not only set back women’s gains; it will also hurt the economy, she said.

“If women are underutilized or talent is misallocated, the GDP growth will be lower, Rodgers said. “That’s bad news for the economy.”

As a worker in a high-demand field, Belmonte believes she will be able to find work when she is ready to return. But many other moms don’t share the same sense of certainty.

Cheryl Gerard, 34, had planned to return to her job as a high school teacher this fall after her maternity leave. She extended her leave until January using a 12-week leave allowance. Now, she is considering resigning over concerns about child care and potential infections.

Gerard said she loves teaching and fears her job won’t be there when she is ready to return.

“I’m not sure when I would feel comfortable going back to a classroom and if a job would be available,” she said. “Teachers’ jobs are not necessarily easy to come by.”

Follow Hannan Adely on Twitter: @adelyreporter 

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Coronavirus: Women are leaving jobs in droves amid child care crisis



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