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For Working Moms, Pandemic Strain Is Unsustainable

Annie Spratt
Research shows that women take on a disproportionate percentage of unpaid care work compared to men. In a pandemic that has left many mothers working from home alongside their children, that disparity in responsibility has become increasingly apparent.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Working parents who are fortunate enough to be employed have been facing a new set of serious challenges, such as loss of childcare and loss of predictable and dependable school schedules.

Add in the responsibility of a full-time job, and parents working from home are often facing a juggling act of video conferences and phone calls along with the responsibilities of feeding, caring for and supporting the education of their children. That’s challenging enough, but for single parents and parents who still work outside the home, things are even harder. The same may be said for people of color, particularly Black Americans, who are experiencing unemployment and other leading markers of economic inequality at a disproportionate rate.

While parents of all genders are feeling the strain of the pandemic, data shows that women, particularly in heterosexual couples, take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work even under normal conditions. With the growing responsibilities brought on by the pandemic and a loss of networks such as school, childcare and social groups that may otherwise offer balance, it is likely that this additional, unpaid work will only increase for mothers.

“It wasn’t until February of 2020, a month before the pandemic, that women were a majority of the workforce in the United States. Now, we’ve got this really interesting moment where women are beginning to leave the workforce as a result of COVID, either voluntarily or not voluntarily,” says Renée Cramer, Herb and Karen Baum Chair of Ethics in the Professions at Drake University. “People on the margins economically are being really negatively impacted… by a lack of a social safety net and a lack of a robust response to the pandemic.”

For some women, the pandemic may mean stepping out of the workforce to provide the childcare and educational support their children need. But for others, especially those without the financial option of remaining out of the work, it may just mean living with the strain of trying to do it all.

On this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe is joined by working mothers from across the state for a look at the uniquely challenging reality of being a working parent in a pandemic.

Katelyn Harrop produced this story as part of the America Amplified initiative using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


  • Renée Cramer, Herb and Karen Baum Chair of Ethics in the Professions at Drake University
  • Jennifer Zwagerman, mother of eight-year-old and five-year-old boys and assistant professor of law at Drake University
  • Reyma McCoy McDeid, single mother of a five-year-old daughter and executive director, Central Iowa Center for Independent Living
  • Dawn Oliver Wiand, executive director, Iowa Women’s Foundation
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa