Women make up more than half of the individuals in New Jersey who've had to file for unemployment benefits since the middle of March.

A U.S. Census Bureau survey finds that 31% of young women with children at home weren't working in July due to COVID-19-related child care issues, compared to 11.6% of men in the same age group.

Advocates say females have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the new academic year for kids could push the needle even further.

While wealthier families may have the means to hire support for their children who are forced to learn virtually at home or elsewhere, many families may be faced with tough decisions and sacrifices to make the situation work for themselves.

"We do see evidence that women are stepping back from the labor force in many cases. We'll be needing to pay attention to those numbers," said Debra Lancaster, executive director of the Center for Women & Work at Rutgers. "That really does set women behind in terms of their careers, in terms of their ability to earn an income and save for the future."

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According to Lancaster, one of the reasons a gender pay gap persists — behind well-known reasons such as discrimination — is that women take on the lion's share of (unpaid) care work at home.

"When you are caring for a young person, that is less time you can spend in the paid labor force," she said. "We know that it's hard to split things down the middle 50/50, but this burden in the aggregate does fall disproportionately onto women, and they're penalized for it over their careers and lifetime earnings."

Policymakers and employers can make the greatest difference in this area, Lancaster suggested. More flexible policies in the workplace, for example, could allow parents more time to focus on children during the day. Issues related to leave and childcare, she added, still need to be examined for working parents post-pandemic.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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