COVID-19’s created an economic burden for women

HONOLULU – COVID-19’s created an economic burden for women, who do most of the child care while still working. That’s according to nonprofit Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice, which says the lockdown forced many mothers to shoulder a disproportionate share of day care, home schooling, and housework; about three in ten women have keiki at home. They’re doing this all while working part or full time themselves.

Women’s finances and health are more at risk, too. Hawaii Appleseed says women are nearly two-thirds of Hawaii’s frontline workers, yet more likely to get laid off because those jobs are in industries like retail, food service, and child care. Senior policy analyst Nicole Woo adds, “At the same time they’re hit hard by the unemployment crisis because they’re concentrated in restaurants and hotels,” says Woo.

“There’s tons of data showing women still have to do more of the housework, and through the generations, women are burdened by more responsibilities at home, even when they’re working full time. This pandemic has just brought that into sharper focus,” Woo continues.

She and her peers now warn that the reopening of many workplaces may cause a new set of problems. The lack of child care options — with day care centers limited in how many kids they can watch — may force women out of the labor force to take care of their children.

We dropped by the home of Khara Jabola-Carolus, who is working and parenting full time during the pandemic. “It’s absolutely exhausting. It feels like being handcuffed to a treadmill. We’re four months in. Constant disruption, constant fatigue,” she says about minding her one and four year old boys.

“I’m breastfeeding on Zoom calls, during meetings, presentations,” she says. Ironically, she’s the executive director of the Hawaii Commission on Status of Women, a state feminist agency fighting for equality for women and girls.

Jabola-Carolus says, “The system was broken before we entered COVID-19. There was very little support for women going forward going into the crisis. I’m extremely angry. I feel we’re not being taken seriously. All the labor we do in the home is not taken seriously. If it was, we’d be supported.”

The Legislature reconvenes June 22. Women’s advocates want lawmakers to spend federal CARES Act funds on child care centers and subsidies to working parents. “If childcare doesn’t open up, our economy can’t open up,” Woo says.

The road to economic recovery, they say, should not be across women’s backs. Jabola-Carolus says, “If you want an economic recovery, you’re going to need to put supports in place for women to be able to be part of that recovery.”