With the U.S. economy growing rapidly, millions of people have returned to work. Yet there is still one large group of Americans whose employment rates remain far below their prepandemic levels — mothers of young children.
Consider this data, which Moody’s Analytics compiled for The Morning:
have not returned to normal operations. They are open for only a few hours a day, a few days a week or on alternating weeks, making it difficult for parents to return to a full-time job. And parenting responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women.
This situation is unlikely to change over the final month or two of the current school year. But it raises a major question about the start of the next school year, in August and September: Will schools fully reopen — every day, Monday through Friday, and every week?
Claire Cain Miller, who writes about gender and work, told me. “Obviously, parents can’t get back to work without that.”
“It’s not enough to sort of open,” said Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University who studies parenting. “We are going to need to figure out how to make it possible to open normally.”
Is it safe to open?
Fortunately, the available evidence indicates that schools can safely return to normal hours in the fall. Nearly all teachers have already had the chance to be vaccinated. By August, all children who are at least 12 are also likely to have had the opportunity. (The Pfizer vaccine is now available to people 16 and up, and federal regulators appear set to approve it for 12- to 15-year-olds in coming weeks.)
Few younger children — maybe none — will have been vaccinated by the fall. But data from both the U.S. and other countries suggests that children rarely infect each other at school. One reason is that Covid-19 tends to be mild for younger children, making them less likely to be symptomatic and contagious.