Last week the Wyoming Women’s Foundation and the Wyoming Community Foundation released survey results about the impacts of COVID-19 on women across the Equality State. Then survey paints a picture of the profound insecurity that women, especially parents, face since the start of the pandemic.

The results are for a window of time earlier this summer; they do not include information about how moms and families are faring since schools have reopened — or gone online.

Twenty percent of women said they or someone in their household had their pay cut.

Seventeen percent worried their food would run out before they would get money to buy more

Fifteen percent of women reported more difficulty paying for medical care since COVID-19

Rebekah Smith, director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, talked with me about these survey results. She focused on the impact on single moms.

“We know that for the 20% of respondents who are single moms, job losses or reduced work hours can create a crisis. For single mothers who experience a job loss or reduced work hours, there is no buffer or financial backup.”

Smith points out that single moms are already perched on the precipice and struggling to stave off financial calamity.

“According to the latest demographic analysis of the Wyoming Self-Sufficiency Standard, 58% of single moms were already living below self-sufficiency. For those who are making enough to meet their basic needs, many are on living the edge with little or no savings. Any interruption in employment can create a cascade of unmet expenses.”

In most families with young children the majority of mothers work.

According to a study from American Progress, “Among married couple families, two-thirds of mothers are employed (67.3 percent), as are the nearly three-quarters of unmarried mothers (73.2 percent). Employment rates for mothers are slightly lower among families where the youngest child is under 6 years old. … but the majority of women with even very young children still work for pay.”

Yet Wyoming offers limited access to child care, especially quality, affordable child care. In fact, 18% of Wyoming parents who participated in the survey said they worried about job loss because of lack of child care.

Smith points out that, “While moms are trying to keep the family afloat, they further have to worry about the safety of their kids,” because they lack access to child care.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce calls child care a critical component of early childhood education, a method to support the current workforce and also the best way to develop the next generation of workers, entrepreneurs and community leaders.

So why haven’t we invested in child care?

There are deep systemic roots and reasons for the ways we allocate public resources. Some of those come from our cultural traditions and social norms that include a maddeningly entrenched vein of misogyny.

When a sexist understanding of the division of household labor — rooted in a religiously inflected history — gets wrapped into our political system, it can be hard to separate the two.

“So often, our most masculine-coded institutions, like the government, are despised for doing ‘women’s work’ — caring for the vulnerable, giving ‘handouts,’ taking an active interest in health care and ‘nannying’ people,” feminist philosopher Kate Manne said.

But unless we untangle the misogyny from the policy, we can’t enact decisions that reflect the realities of the mothers (and fathers) in our state.

And that includes recognizing that child care is community infrastructure.

When we don’t invest in child care, when we cut the departments of Health and Family Services first and more deeply than other departments, we’re perpetuating a system that privileges masculine over feminine. We’re putting women and, by extension our children and our futures, at a disadvantage.

But we can change this. We can recognize that child care represents an essential investment in the people — mothers, fathers, children, businesses — and economics of our state as well as our collective future.

Jennifer M. Simon founded the Wyoming Women’s Action Network and is a senior policy advisor to the Equality State Policy Center. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School. She can be reached via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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