This is the third part of a FT series that looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the job market and changed the way millions of people think about work
At the height of pandemic restrictions in Mexico Last year, Lorena Romero’s employer cut her hours in half, and the single mother of two is still struggling to get her work life back on track.
Romero wants to increase his hours and has considered various roles, including live domestic jobs about two hours from his home. But the need to care for her teenage children, who have not yet returned to school full time, makes it difficult to find suitable opportunities.
“I can’t take that kind of job right now; I need to be close to my children. . . It has been difficult, ”said the 35-year-old from Mexico City.
Romero’s situation echoes that of tens of millions of women during the pandemic. As female-dominated service sectors, such as retail and home care, were hit by the lockdowns, many women lost their jobs. Many others stopped working or reduced their hours to cope with the domestic responsibilities that fell disproportionately on them.
FT Series: Where did all the workers go?
Features in this Serie include:
Part 1 How migration and early retirement have been reduced the workforce shrunk
Part 2 Generating Change: American Workers stop working in record numbers
Part 3 Back to work: why French workers resisting the ‘great abandonment’ of Covid
Part 4 Pandemic ‘handover’ persists for working women in emerging markets
The Covid-related recession destroyed 4.2 percent of women’s employment worldwide during the pandemic, compared with 3 percent for men, according to the International labor organization, exacerbating a global gender gap in which 43% of working-age women are employed, compared to 69% of men.
There, women are still 2.6 times more likely than men to lose their pre-pandemic jobs, and many have left the job market entirely, according to a World Bank report to be published soon. Rates of female participation in employment are now worse than before the pandemic in almost all countries in the region.
“The recovery has been very asymmetrical and therefore the gaps have widened across the board,” said Ximena Del Carpio, who leads the World Bank’s poverty and equity practice group. “The women who have fared the worst in the region are mothers with young children.”
Outside of the capital, Mexico’s vaccination campaign has been slow and fair. 50 percent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated.
A factor that severely set women back Latin America is that the region had some of the longest school closings in the world, according to The UNESCO. Making things even more difficult are the social norms around childcare and housework.
On average, a Mexican woman who works 40 hours a week will be enough. more than twice the amount of domestic work as a man with the same hours, according to the statistical agency INEGI.
The lack of a reliable and affordable market for childcare also means that Mexican mothers rely heavily on grandmothers to care for children. But Covid-19 made that feature of traditional family life more difficult.
“Most of the people here depend on their grandparents,” said Maribel Hernández, who works peeling prawns in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. During the pandemic, his ability to work depended on his parents taking care of their son and the children of his disabled brother.
“If they [my parents] I can help, I go out to work, but if they can’t, I have to stay, ”she said, adding that the daycare centers were for mothers with better-paid jobs than hers.
One study shows that when a Mexican grandmother dies in a three-generation household, the probability that the daughter works is reduced by 12 percentage points.
“The issue of the care system in Mexico is fundamental,” said Edgar Vielma Orozco, director of sociodemographic statistics at INEGI, about the dependence on grandmothers for childcare. “You shouldn’t depend on your mother to be in the job market, there should be a system of care.”
Argentina offers a stark example. Before the pandemic, around 1.2 million women, or 17 percent of the female workforce, were employed in domestic work.
But when Covid-19 hit, the capital, Buenos Aires, went through one of the longest and strictest roadblocks in the world, paralyzing the economy and destroying jobs because families feared getting sick. As a result, 350,000 domestic workers were still out of work in March, according to the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity.
“For those who work in private households, the job recovery rate is the slowest of any industry,” including the most affected sectors such as the hospitality industry, said Mercedes D’Alessandro, an Argentine economist and director of gender and equality at the Ministry of Finance.
To try to make things better, the government has launched a wage subsidy program for cleaners and other domestic workers.
Critics say it only reinforces outdated gender roles, but the Argentine government hopes it will provide critical employment for thousands of women.
Beyond subsidies, other useful policies for the region could be recycling programs, better access to finance for women entrepreneurs and reliable child care, Del Carpio said.
“The [childcare] services may be there, but will you put your child in a facility that is unsupervised? No, ”she said.
For those women who can work from home, the increase in flexible working during the pandemic has been a positive point. But for most Latin Americans that is not possible given the relative scarcity of administrative jobs in the region. As a result, domestic care responsibilities often take precedence over paid work.
For people like Leticia Velázquez, it is an enigma. In May, he left his job at a Mexican textile factory that he had had for more than two decades in the southwestern state of Oaxaca for fear of contracting Covid and giving it to his 84-year-old mother, who lives with her.
“We saw colleagues die,” the 56-year-old said, adding that even if they wanted to, a nursing home for her mother was not an option. “It costs a lot of money that, frankly, I don’t have.”