working mom

Women In The Workforce Are Decreasing Because America Sucks At Taking Care Of Families

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting that the number of women in the workforce is the lowest it has been since 1988. This decline is for several reasons but the ones that struck me most involve the moms that end up leaving the workforce and staying at home with their children. Women in the workforce are decreasing for a number of reasons but the most obvious one I can think of is that this country is terrible to families with two working parents.

The information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as reported by MarketWatch shows that the decline of women in the workforce began around the recession in 2008 and has gradually gotten worse every year since. The article outlines reasons such as young women staying in school longer in hopes that the economy gets better but the most striking to me involves the women who leave the workforce after having children, not necessarily by choice:

The number of stay-at-home moms rose to 29% of mothers in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999, although still down from 49% over four decades ago, according to an analysis of government data by Pew, a U-turn on the long-term decline in the number of stay-at-home moms. The category includes mothers who choose to stay at home to care for their families, but also those who are at home because they are unable to find work, are disabled or are enrolled in school.

One reason for the rise in stay-at-home motherhood: Childcare is the biggest household expense in most regions, says Lynette Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America, a non-profit group in Arlington, Va. that works with state and local agencies. The average cost for full-time care for an infant ranges from $4,863 a year in Mississippi to $16,430 in Massachusetts, according to its annual report. The U.S. is one of the few industrialized nations that doesn’t require paid family leave for new parents.


When American employers and their policies are so unfriendly to women, is it any wonder that some give up and opt out of the workforce? I was one of those women when my kids were younger before I was able to find a job that paid enough to make two children in daycare worth my bother. I also stayed at home because my husband and I wanted our kids to be at home when they were little babies and going back to work would mean only a 6-12 week (unpaid) maternity leave. It just didn’t seem worth it to us, particularly when I was making what I made at the job I had before our first child was born. I can absolutely understand why many women simply opt out.

I understand the need for daycare to cost what it costs but this means that a large population of women do not see it worth their bother to be in the workforce and stay at home when they might otherwise not. It seems like employers go out of their way to make it hard for a woman to return to work after having a baby. Unpaid leave, no on-site childcare in most places, time-off polices that are not friendly to families- I could go on and on. For my own part, at the company I used to work at, I never saw a mom take longer than six weeks after having a baby. I don’t blame the company in particular- I know it is probably like this in many work places. When the leave is unpaid, most women find it nearly impossible to stay home any longer than that because they have bills to pay.

I’m sure this steady decline in women in the workforce will continue unless our policies change and give parents a break. It is infuriating that America is one of very few industrialized nations without paid parental leave and also, that affordable and reliable daycare is very hard to find. I wish this country valued families more and made it easier for women to return to and enter the workforce after having babies. It is a shame that it is currently not the case.

(Image: Peter Bernik/Shutterstock)