Women Are Falling Behind, Due to Increased Childcare Responsibilities and Debt, Exacerbated by the Pandemic


New research from gender justice organization Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) found a full 50% of Black and Latinx women surveyed, the majority of whom are Black, are struggling to make ends meet and are being knocked down the ladder of financial stability due to increased caregiving responsibilities and debt during the pandemic.

ERA’s Family Voices Amplified research surveyed 637 women from over 15 different cities across the United States, 90% of whom were women of color. The goal of the mixed-methods study was to capture the economic reality of working-class women, particularly women of color, after two years of economic uncertainty.

Survey results and kitchen table conversations reveal the vast majority of participants have had to take on debt since the pandemic because of a reduction in working hours due to increased caregiving responsibilities.

“Even before the pandemic, unequal pay, workplace discrimination, and a lack of affordable childcare put women at a financial disadvantage—all of which is heightened for women of color,” said Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates. “These community responses confirm what we’ve all suspected. The pandemic exacerbated all of these issues, and while white men, as well as higher-earning white women, are returning to some form of normalcy, low-to-middle income Black and Latinx breadwinners have been set years behind in their careers and financial goals.”

The survey results also indicate that family caregiving impacts the economic participation of women. Nearly 85% of respondents have some form of caregiving responsibility, and almost half of respondents left or reduced hours at their job due to shifts in childcare since March of 2020. As their employment opportunities decline, Black and Latinx family breadwinners are also experiencing discrimination at work.

  • Over a quarter of survey respondents expect childcare responsibilities will delay or prevent returning to previous levels of employment
  • Over a quarter expect childcare responsibilities will delay or prevent beginning or continuing education
  • 20% expect childcare responsibilities will delay or prevent achieving long-term financial goals
  • 86% experienced one or more of the following shifts in employment because of the pandemic: layoff, furlough, decrease in hours or wages
  • 77% experienced some form of discrimination in their current employment

“These working moms are doing everything right but it’s not enough,” Delia Coleman, Equal Rights Advocates Deputy Director and co-author of the study said. “They work hard, go to school, and have partners and families. They are the embodiment of the American Dream. However, the economic precarity these families are experiencing is the result of deliberately insufficient economic policies that have not penetrated far enough into these communities.”

Finally, economic challenges have pushed women into debt. Eighty-five percent of respondents took on additional debt since the pandemic began, primarily credit card debt. The top reasons for taking on debt included medical expenses, paying off back utility bills and back rent. More than half of the respondents don’t feel confident they can pay off their debt with their current or future income.

“It’s clear that women of color, in particular Black and Latina women, have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, and will feel the impact on their finances for decades to come unless action is taken,” said Farrell. “This will only worsen as access to abortion and reproductive health care options force unplanned pregnancies. There are major changes that must be made in our economic system if we want to create financial stability for all Americans. These include affordable childcare, fair pay and job security, protection from discrimination, rental assistance, and debt relief.”

Equal Rights Advocates worked with the Insight Center to develop and field the Family Voices survey. Between September 2021 and January 2022, ERA collected data through surveys and then regional focus groups with survey participants.

Equal Rights Advocates fights for gender justice in workplaces and schools across the country. Since 1974, they have been fighting on the front lines of social justice to protect and advance rights and opportunities for women, girls, and people of all gender identities through groundbreaking legal cases and bold legislation that sets the stage for the rest of the nation.

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