THERE’S FINALLY A light at the end of the tunnel as the economy slowly rebuilds from the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can’t ignore this lingering casualty: the devastating impact on the female workforce, or what many are calling a “she-cession.”
The pandemic has been hard on all families but the brunt of the hardship has fallen on working mothers. When we, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester, closed our doors in March 2020 due to the pandemic, we knew the difficult toll it would take on our families, especially our working moms. As workplaces re-open, it’s more important now than ever to support working families and help mothers return to their jobs and careers. Women are vital to the country’s economy but a major hurdle holding them back from rejoining the workforce at full capacity, in the key roles they chose to advance their careers, is the lack of quality and affordable early education and child care.
For the past 40 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester has been committed to providing high-quality early education and child care to the families in the community who need us the most. During the mandated closure, we focused on creative ways to support the 150 families served in our licensed child care programs as well as those 4,000 youth and families enrolled in the membership programs. Now, we have an opportunity to do more. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester has been building more capacity, including an expanded partnership with Boston Public Schools, and increasing opportunities for families at our Harbor Point Early Childhood Education Center. With the national policy conversations on this issue and more focus on this very real economic barrier for women, we can expand our services to allow for more mothers and families to achieve greater flexibility to earn more by advancing in their jobs and careers if we have partners in government.
The lack of affordable child care diminishes the pipeline of talented women in the workforce, further fuels the gender pay equity gap, and eliminates the lifetime earnings for families as well as security for women.
To right the course and recover fully from the “she-session” which was exacerbated by the pandemic we must consider new tools and greater collaboration to support all in our community:
- Increase the pipeline of resources to non-profit partners who provide high quality early education and care to our most in need families.
- Streamline policies and remove systemic barriers to allow for a more seamless connection between community-based organizations and schools to provide a holistic support system for families from birth through career.
- Build stronger community based coalitions that work collaboratively toward family support especially in access to mental health and wellbeing services.
In the US this past year, 30 percent of the women who quit their jobs did so due to lack of child care and school closures. When the school buildings did not re-open in Boston, we asked our staff to kick into high gear and develop learning hubs — safe and supervised spaces where children could come each day to sign into their classrooms. We knew the majority of our families are employed in businesses that do not allow them to work from home. Women have even less capacity to work from home than men, because of overrepresentation in certain industries.
Now, as we look towards the future, we can’t go back to normal. We must move forward with a renewed focus, and an urgency to do more for our working moms and families. Additionally, we must increase our focus on mental health and wellness for all of our families, staff, and community. The realities of the past year require us to elevate our focus and work around the whole child and family beyond just education, enrichment, and recreation programming. This work must be front and center on every aspect of our new normal.
There are 50,000 children within a three-mile radius of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester. With Massachusetts having the second-highest cost for infant child care in the country, according to the Economic Policy Institute, contrasted with the estimated wealth of people in our community, you can imagine the stress and anxiety present in homes today. More needs to be done around all aspects of family support and care. Mothers and fathers can’t do it alone and we recognize our responsibility to be their partner in building the next generation of healthy and engaged young people.
From birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life. The impact of high-quality early education and care is significant, yet the public invests very little money in early education and care. Unlike public schools, which are guaranteed revenue sources through city and state funding, programs like ours struggle to balance our budget due to policies and payments based on hourly/daily attendance and not enrollment. We are, however, required to employ educators and incur expenses based on anticipated enrollment, not attendance. Our costs are fixed whether a child is present that day or attends a reduced number of hours per day, so our subsidy revenue fluctuates, but the expenses remain. Now is the time to make changes that will increase access and equity, improve quality, and stabilize and sustain community-based programs.
As a family-focused organization, we take on the challenge to do more and to seek more intentional partnerships that provide our members and their families with a holistic support system from birth through college and career. We are working now toward new plans for the future where we envision a campus-like culture of organizations with shared interests and aligned missions to support working moms, families and, most importantly, our young people.
We stand united with our neighbors in recognizing collectively, we need to do more, work smarter, and drive change at every level to support our working mothers. We start with more affordable child care and more mental health and wellness services. In Dorchester, we have already begun and hope more join us in our advocacy for families. Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can go back to work healthy, strong, and supported.
Mary Kinsella Scannell is the senior vice president of education & programming at Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester. Linda Dorcena Forry is vice president of diversity, inclusion & community at Suffolk Construction. She is a former Massachusetts state senator, and a Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester board member, parent, and alumna.