One year of pandemic: Moms, kids struggle to recover

March 5, 2021

COVID-19 forced schools into distance learning - here a mother is at a table with her children helping them with their hw.

Contact: Jenesse Miller 213-810-8554 or

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools and childcare centers to close in March 2020, many working parents — especially working mothers — were thrust into new roles as teachers and daycare providers as schools switched to distance learning. Now, a year later, experts at the USC Dornsife Center for the Changing Family and the USC Rossier School of Education reflect on the loss of 2.5 million women from the U.S. workforce, the disruption to children’s education and what the nation must do to get families back on track.


What’s at stake: The future of women in the workforce

“Women carry an increasingly heavier load than men when it comes to providing child care and educational support for their children during this pandemic, even while working. The percentage of working moms who have sole responsibility for providing child care and help with schoolwork increased from 33% to 45% between May and October 2020. Women have lost jobs at a higher rate than men during the pandemic and almost twice as many remain without a job, compared to men.

“This is concerning for the future status of women in the workforce. Increased and prolonged child care responsibilities could make it harder for women to recover from employment lost during this COVID-19 crisis.”

María Prados is a research scientist at the Center for Economic and Social Research at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her research interests include the determinants of inequality, health, gender, labor economics and intra-household decisions.



The child care sector, and early education, is imploding

“Affordable child care access is the most pressing issue facing families right now. Since the start of COVID-19, 865,000 women have left the workforce because they cannot find or afford child care. Furthermore, the vast majority of early care providers are women and that workforce has also shrunk.

“Early childhood care providers are facing a 47% increase in operating costs during the pandemic all while enrollment is down. This is unsustainable, and we are on the precipice of a total implosion of the early childhood care sector. This is fueled by the American idea that child care and early education are two separate topics when in fact, child care is early education.”

Dorian Traube is an associate professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak Peck School of Social Work. Her research focuses on early childhood education and development, and on the role of technology and social programs to assist families in need who are parenting children ages 0-5.



The pandemic made it clear: Education is not a product

“The pandemic has shown us that education is not a product that can be packaged and delivered — it requires a network of physical resources and human capital to be equitably deployed. We cannot simply give teachers and students technologies like Zoom and assume that things will work themselves out. Ongoing support and training is necessary.

“When the pandemic began, we shifted toward emergency distance learning. A year later, it is tempting to simply use the term ‘distance learning,’ as though we have figured it out. We haven’t. For many low-income families, the emergency has not abated. It is still acutely being felt.”

Stephen AguiIar is an assistant professor at the USC Rossier School of Education and co-author of the recent report When school comes home: How low-income families are adapting to distance learning.  His research focuses on the design and efficacy of learning analytics-based applications, and how they can be used to promote social justice and educational achievement among ethnic and racial minority students.



America needs an overhaul of the social safety net

“We desperately need to overhaul and repair the safety net for low-income families. The pandemic has revealed that women are the safety net for most families, but we need a more workable unemployment benefits system, paid family leave and paid sick days.”

Clare Pastore is a professor of the practice of law at the USC Gould School of Law and an expert on poverty, social welfare programs, access to justice, legal ethics and civil rights. She is the co-author of the leading poverty law textbook and has litigated many cases in the areas of poverty and civil rights.



Kids transitioning back to school will need mental health services

“We are facing an impending mental health crisis in our school children. School mental health professionals need the tools, training and support to be able to help young people virtually and to prepare for the challenges they will face as they transition back to in-person school.

“Children will need help to cope with their grief regarding family members who have been sick or passed away; feelings of disconnection from their peers together with anxiety about trying to rebuild friendship groups; and gaps in learning that have occurred.”

Marian Williams is a psychologist specializing in early childhood mental health and developmental disabilities in children. She is an associate professor of clinical pediatrics and the program area lead for early childhood mental health programs at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.



What needs to happen post-pandemic?

“At a most fundamental level, families need a sense of security and safety. We need to prioritize ending food insecurity and homelessness and making sure families have access to health care and educational opportunities.

“As new employment opportunities emerge post-pandemic, we need policies that provide retraining for new jobs and programs that make child care more accessible.”

Gayla Margolin is a professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her research identifies how family relationships can be sources of both risk and resilience for children and young adults.


The USC Dornsife Center for the Changing Family will host an event, “The Politics of Care,” on Tuesday, March 9th. RSVP here:

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