Teacher Union Resistance to School Openings Keeping Moms out of Workforce

The closure of schools and the resistance by teachers’ unions to reopening them is having the spillover effect of forcing more women out of the workforce. A study released Monday by the Financial Times builds on other recent research that came to the same conclusion: School closure is a key driver of women stopping work. (Subscription needed for FT link.)

Many mothers have stayed home to take care of their now-homebound kids. Alternately, many mothers could work from home, aren’t because they cannot do that and supervise their kids at the same time, or at least not work as productively as they did before the pandemic.

Two out of five working mothers have withdrawn from the workforce or contemplated doing it, the Financial Times reported Monday. “The findings add to mounting evidence that the pandemic has disproportionately affected working women because of school closures and their over-representation in precarious jobs,” the FT reported.

A working paper by a Census Bureau researcher published in October found that mothers with jobs in states with early school closures due to the pandemic were 68.8 percent more likely than mothers in states with delayed closures or none or none to have had a job but not be working as a result of early shutdowns. There was no effect on working fathers or working women without school-age children.

Reopening schools would likely end this burden and allow these women to reenter the workforce, but teachers’ unions have fought against that. Unions have fought reopening across the nation. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera was forced to sue the city’s school district to get it to reopen over union resistance. Parent groups in the city are now trying to recall the school board.  Los Angeles schools are still not scheduled to reopen due to the teachers’ union.

Yes, the cultural expectation that mothers shoulder more of the burden plays into this, as does gender imbalances in pay, though only in the case of two-parent families. Parents, faced with the quandary, “Which one of us stops working to take care of the kids?” will usually be pragmatic and have the lower earner stop working. But neither of those issues are things that can be quickly fixed. School closures, on the other hand, can be reversed overnight if the political will exists. Unions have been the main obstacle to that.