Reflections on Gender Disparities in the Pandemic: Childcare & Eldercare

Last week’s Community Conversations continues to sit with me: what I heard, what remained unsaid, and where hope might be seen. The discussion, an extension of our original K-shaped Recovery conversation, covered tremendous ground and, at the same time, barely scratched the surface of addressing the vast disparity of immediate needs of our community members.

Below are a few of my own reflections.

  • While some feel as if the pandemic is behind us, others are clearly struggling with significant challenges even now. The need to care for others – whether children or elders – while simultaneously managing the other effects of the pandemic (emotional, economic, health, etc.), exacts a punishing toll on women.  
  • Panelists shared both uncomfortable facts and scenarios:
    • Caregiving issues predate the pandemic. The past two years have further tested our broken/non-existent, systems of care.
    • Working parents of children under five years of age at times face unreliable childcare coverage – either because of coronavirus cases with providers and children, or quarantine requirements. Many exhaust available sick leave and end up taking unpaid leave (47% of working women; 65% of low-income women; 75% of female workers working part-time), further exacerbating income inequities.
    • Black, Latino, and single mothers were the most likely to leave the workforce altogether. Their challenges get further compounded by lack of technological infrastructure at home, a lack of services to support their needs, and lack of stable paying job opportunities outside of the service sector.
    • Professional caregivers – most of whom are female – face the dual challenges of caregiving at home and work. Many settings are now short-handed, putting further pressure on overworked staff. In many instances, the informal web of childcare settings has closed entirely.  

Where do we go from here?

That’s a question I kept asking myself as I took notes on the discussion. As I mentioned above, many of the caregiving challenges predate Covid-19 and any possible solutions will involve policy changes.

A few ideas stood out to me:

  • There’s got to be a way to fix the issue around unpaid sick leave when a caregiver has to take time to support a child or parent (or both). Punishing women/mothers – especially single, minority, and those working hourly jobs – with partial or permanent loss of wages will not help our community members recover or find equity in our society.
  • Mental health services, especially for the same group of women/mothers as above that may not have easy access to such support, needs a major expansion. Support for professional caregivers also needs additional support.
  • Federal and state funding of childcare and eldercare centers needs significant boosting, as does compensation for childcare staff.
  • We need to center children, elders, and caregiving in our communities. We could build caregiving centers into affordable housing efforts, for instance (parenthetically, I would also recommend weaving in health and mental wellness services).

At the end of the session, the last idea that came to mind focused on the potential of Mountain View’s guaranteed basic income pilot to provide a base of support for low-income women caregivers. I hope the data might shed light on a possible avenue forward.

I’ll wrap up as I started – this was a difficult conversation and one that continues to grab my attention. We will continue the deep dive into the impact of the pandemic on women by exploring the effects on careers in our next session. I expect another fascinating conversation to set us up well for the concluding session on possible policy solutions and community actions.

I hope you’ll join us.

Adin Miller, Executive Director, Los Altos Mountain View Community Foundation

P.S. Unfortunately, there was a technical glitch with the Spanish-language recording. Our sincere apologies for this. We hope to have that issue resolved before our following community conversation. 

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