Nina Taylor, 30, was a small business owner until March of this year. Her company, Gemstone Bakery – The Cake Bar, was a mobile cottage foods vendor supplying vegan and paleo options and catering to customers with certain food allergies. Before COVID-19 ruthlessly shut her down and cleaned out her bank account, Colorado Springs customers could find Taylor’s food truck parked in front of breweries, at festivals and in areas designated for mobile vendors.
Taylor was going to school while operating Gemstone Bakery. She was only a few months away from completing her business degree when the 2020 pandemic threw her world into chaos.
“I’m a young woman of color and I’m from a low-income family, so I already have two things pitted against me from the start, and closing my business was especially painful,” Taylor told The Lighthouse. “It wasn’t just that I had built this thing from the ground up and lost it. It was that I was not able to properly sell off the assets. I had the truck, equipment, mixers, pans, product stock and expensive vegan and paleo products. Nobody was trying to buy a business at that time because everything was closing. All that investment was lost.”
Taylor has since moved to Hattiesburg, Miss., to be close to family and ride out the pandemic. She has two children—an 11-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. Both attend gifted classes in Hattiesburg public schools, but the lingering COVID-19 threat is keeping mothers like Taylor at home and putting their careers on hold.
Women like Taylor are discovering day-care centers have shut down or locked enrollment, and many school districts are imposing remote learning to protect students and their families. While necessary, remote learning requires a parent to be present, and many mothers feel more pressure than fathers to involve themselves and manage the new home life.
The resulting pandemic shutdown has created a lopsided recession so targeted to women with children that many economists are taking to calling the recession a “she-session.” One report concluded the share of women in the labor force or those who are actively seeking work in the labor force has dropped to its lowest level since 1988. The Labor Department’s jobs report revealed the economy has gained some jobs back, but those jobs are just a little more than half of the jobs lost at the onset of massive nationwide shutdown in March and April. That same report revealed exacting home-schooling requirements are taking a toll and resulting in 2.2 million women leaving the work force since January. That figure compares to only 1.5 million fewer men, according to the Labor Department.
Up until July, many mothers received an extra $600 in weekly jobless benefits that helped keep whole states above water, but Congress remains deadlocked on a bill after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell ignored the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House back in May.
It’s a grim figure for a nation facing a cruel spike in coronavirus cases as the winter months overtake the nation. Congress has not recently addressed the economic damage, having yet to agree on an extension in popular aid programs and eviction protections that propped up the economy during the worst of the pandemic. Up until July, many mothers received an extra $600 in weekly jobless benefits that helped keep whole states above water, but Congress remains deadlocked on a bill after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell ignored the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House back in May. McConnell also shut down a $2.2 trillion compromise offer the House more recently approved.
Child-care access is another thing strongly impacting women’s labor force participation. Even if people like Taylor weren’t pushed out by the mass closure of whole economic sectors, many mothers must quit their jobs due to a lack of childcare. One out of fourwomen who reported becoming unemployed during the pandemic said it was because of childcare. This is twice the rate of men. Additionally, a Washington Post survey of working parents discovered the loss of hours because of a lack of childcare was particularly greater for women of color, women without a college degree and women living in low-income households.
Even before the pandemic, states like Mississippi imposed impossibly strict income requirements to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money. A family consisting of a mother and a child, for example, can make no more than $542 gross monthly income to qualify. These steep requirements allowed Mississippi to make very few payouts and accumulate nearly $47 million in unused TANF funds by 2016. The state never paid that money to families, but instead gave it to wealthy non-profits and connected political donors, who then squandered the cash on expensive cars and property until there was roughly $8 million left in the fund by 2018.
Corrupt officials were able to blow that money specifically because the state was keeping it from the needy families it was intended to serve.
“The income limits are strict. They make no sense,” said Taylor. “You can’t work and have access to childcare. This is not supposed to be about politics. Think about the mothers who are trying to do this and make this work. That’s what this is supposed to be about, and it gets hijacked with a political conversation about whether people want to work or not, and that’s not the conversation at all. We have politicians living in multi-billion-dollar homes and mothers and single moms who want to work but can’t put food on the table.”
Taylor has been managing to get by only because of her deceased husband’s military benefits, but she knows other women aren’t lucky enough to have her resources. She said she fears for countless Black women whose lives are on hold until the economy recovers, if it ever does. Until then, she urged young women to know their politicians and vote for people with a real plan to fix the mess and change the argument.