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Parents Under Pressure Consider Quitting Work To Teach Kids At Home

Some parents are having to make employment decisions based on whether kids are going back to school in person. [Hananeko_Studio / Shutterstock]
Some parents are having to make employment decisions based on whether kids are going back to school. [Hananeko_Studio / Shutterstock]

Homeroom: A Return to Learning

This story is part of ideastream's special series examining the challenges and perils of returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parenting is a tough job, even more so during the coronavirus pandemic, as parents find themselves becoming educators and providing childcare, all while trying to work from home.

But what does it mean for the economy when parents are forced to wear so many hats while also trying to work?

According to a Care.com survey of 1,000 working parents, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were thinking about changing their work schedules to accommodate online learning and childcare. Many also said they are looking for a different job or considering leaving the workforce entirely.

Jenny Hawkins, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University, isn’t surprised.

“The pandemic has left working parents to balance both child care, supervising distance learning, and then their own job responsibilities,” Hawkins said. “On top of it, the pandemic has put us in a recession, so most families’ incomes have been reduced, and that adds even more pressure to these responsibilities," Hawkins said.

Most school-aged kids have parents who work full time. Among married couples with children, nearly 98 percent of families had at least one employed parent in 2019, and about 64 percent had both parents employed, according to the U.S.  Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

But with fewer options for childcare and a need to be at home with kids who are not physically at school, Hawkins said changes to education during to the pandemic will impact all families, especially low-income households.  

“Some families have more resources than others,” she said. “But so many families face challenges that just on top of the pandemic make all of this more daunting… A low-income family, those parents might be more likely to work outside of the home, and that’s a tough decision. Either they find child care or they have to quit their job.”

Adding to the burden on these already cash-strapped families, schools often provide resources that families now have to cover on their own. Food and utility costs will go up with kids staying at home. These changes may lead to more families falling behind financially, Hawkins said.

“Many, many workers who have these types of minimum wage jobs. They might have been trying to take a class here and there in college to increase their skill set so they could find higher-paying jobs, and right now that’s been cut off, so they’re falling behind in terms of their goals,” she said.

Kids might also fall behind educationally, which could have ripple effects on the economy at large. What’s the long-term economic impact of these changes to our educational system? That’s yet to be determined, but the past may hold some answers, Hawkins said.

A study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research ftound quarantines and closed schools during the 1916 U.S. polio pandemic caused children aged 14-17 at the time to have less educational attainment than their slightly older peers.

“That implies that it’s really difficult to really catch up,” Hawkins said.

If students aren’t succeeding academically during the pandemic, it may mean they will earn less after graduating from high school, Hawkins said.

Other studies show a less educated workforce negatively impacts a country’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, which is an economic indicator used to show the economic health of a country. 

The short-term effects of remote learning on the economy can be seen in real time, as parents make difficult choices about how many hours to work or whether to quit their jobs to take care of kids, Hawkins said.

The long-term effects have yet to be seen, but Hawkins said the pandemic’s impact could ripple through the U.S. economy and education system for years to come.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158