A few weeks before the pandemic hit, Melissa Colbourne went on medical leave from her job as a case manager for a child care agency. She had planned to be out for two months, but when schools closed, she extended her leave through the summer. She is a single mother, and her daughter Alyssa, now 9, was at home.
Last fall, she returned to work. Because schools are still closed in Los Angeles, where they live, she started sending Alyssa to a subsidized day care where she does remote school.
“I have a car note, rent, groceries to pay for, bills, so I can’t just up and quit,” said Ms. Colbourne, 37. “I think that’s what it is with a lot of African-American women. A lot of us don’t have a lot of family we can depend on.”
Detailed data has not been available on the experience of parents during the pandemic, so researchers have tried various methods to determine the effects. The census analysis examined data about parents living with school-aged children. It excluded parents of infants and toddlers, an age when mothers are less likely to work in general. It also excluded parents not living with their children because the data is unavailable, and custodial parents are more likely to be involved in daily child care.
The analysis looked at parents who were actively working, excluding those employed but on leave. Many more mothers than normal are using paid or unpaid leave to cope with the child care crisis. (This is a different approach than more commonly reported employment numbers, which leave out people who are not looking for work, such as mothers who have stopped working until schools reopen, and count people on most kinds of leave as being employed.)
Though mothers are facing unusual challenges, the census analysis also shows the ways in which they have been affected by the same forces as other workers. It found that mothers who exited the work force were largely from the service sector, which is where most of the job losses have been.
More than parental status or gender, education has been most decisive in who has lost jobs during the pandemic, said Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard. People with college degrees are more likely to have been able to work from home, to work for employers that have stayed in business or to be able to afford additional child care.