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Working moms struggle under pressure from pandemic

Working moms struggle under pressure from pandemic
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A year into the coronavirus pandemic and approaching what many hope is its twilight, lawmakers and administration officials are seeking policy solutions to alleviate its disproportionate impact on women.

Many working mothers are facing a stark choice between jobs they can't do remotely and staying home with children who aren't in school.

“This has been a roller coaster,” said Brisandi Ruiz Mercedes, a mother of one from Prince George’s County, Maryland.

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Ruiz Mercedes filed for unemployment in June after her boss told her working from home wasn’t an option, despite her lack of child care.

“He told me if you cannot come back, you are terminated, and I said ‘well, I’m terminated,' ” she said.

Nearly a year later, she now works two jobs so her son has access to quality day care.

The pandemic has also forced mothers and women to leave the workforce in droves.

Roughly 275,000 women left the workforce in January alone, compared to 71,000 men, according to the Department of Labor.

“Caretaking demands are largely falling on women,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, chief policy officer at Zero to Three, an organization dedicated to infant-toddler policy and program development.

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“Over 40 percent of women have said they have stopped working or have scaled back on their hours as a result of not having enough child care,” Jones-Taylor said.

The exodus of women from the workforce has cut back on the progress made by working women in recent decades. Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenOn The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Fed chief brushes off fears of extended inflation Yellen confident rising inflation won't be 'permanent' MORE warned of what she called the
“permanent scarring from this crisis.”

Other experts warn that the absence of women from the labor market could have an impact on wages, especially among working mothers. Working mothers are already paid only 70 cents for every dollar paid to working fathers, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Another working mom, Kaylah Dessausure, has struggled to find child care throughout the pandemic after giving birth to her second child days before the shutdown last year. While both are in day care, the single mother from Delaware said she is relying on schools opening up for in-person learning by the time her 4-year-old starts kindergarten later this year.

“If he goes virtual, I might have to forfeit my job because I don’t have anyone to stay home with him during the day,” Dessausure told The Hill.

Ruiz Mercedes and Dessausure are both working with the Kids Are Essential project, a group calling for greater investment in children and their families. The national public education group is made up of more than 120 organizations aimed at calling attention to the crises of the pandemic, economic inequality and systemic racism.

Government officials are also working to address the extraordinary pressure on women amid the pandemic. President BidenJoe BidenJapan to possibly ease COVID-19 restrictions before Olympics 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday China supplies millions of vaccine doses to developing nations in Asia MORE in marking International Women’s Day on Monday established a Gender Policy Council in the White House.

The council, which will report directly to Biden, will prioritize issues disproportionately impacting women like child care and pay equity.

“We know that the full participation of all people, including women and girls, across all aspects of our society is essential to the economic wellbeing, health and security of our nation and of the world. This is a matter of human rights," first lady Jill BidenJill BidenBiden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president Overnight Health Care: FDA says millions of J&J doses from troubled plant must be thrown out | WHO warns Africa falling far behind in vaccinations | Top CDC official says US not ready for next pandemic The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Sights and sounds from Biden's UK visit MORE’s chief of staff Julissa Reynoso said in a White House briefing, also noting the "caregiving crisis" amid the pandemic.

The caregiving crisis is exacerbated among women of color, who already had less access to both teleworking and child care prior to the pandemic.

According to the left-leaning Center for American Progress, only 20 percent of African Americans and less than 20 percent of Hispanics on average said they were able to work remotely from 2017 to 2018. The progressive think tank also found that before the pandemic, a median-income African American family would already have to spend 56 percent of its income on child care.

“We’re seeing significantly more Black and Latinx households are reporting major or extreme financial difficulties,” Jones-Taylor said.

Biden is preparing to sign his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which increases the current child care tax credit from $2,000 per dependent to $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 per child under 6.

Experts say the move is a step in the right direction, and one long in the making.

But as the majority of the country awaits their vaccine shot, experts suggest the pandemic merely highlighted inequalities facing women and a return to some semblance of normal will not diminish the issues.

Ruiz Mercedes said her son is now in an accommodating day care, but she is at one job during the week from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and another on the weekend from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“I work all the time so I can pay for child care,” Ruiz Mercedes said. “I know it’s not healthy. I’m so tired all the time, but I really need to get him in school so I can work and also so he can learn.”

And Dessausure is juggling raising an 11-month-old and 4-year-old while also taking online classes through Delaware Technical College in hopes of one day becoming a teaching assistant.

She added that if she could ask for one resource to get through the pandemic, it would be financial assistance.

“Before the pandemic, I might have just been getting by, but now it’s barely making it,” she said.