The COVID-19 recession is affecting workers and businesses around the state, but perhaps none more so than working parents, who have had their routines and their children’s routines interrupted by school closures and reduced availability of childcare outside of the home.

Oregon’s largest school districts have recently announced that in-person schooling will resume in early 2021. There are no easy or obvious answers amid this fundamental shift back toward the home, and families and communities are using many different strategies to cope during this time.

For businesses, a lack of dependable schedules for a solid share of the workforce is difficult to swallow, too. How much of the workforce are we talking about?

Oregon’s civilian labor force includes 652,000 parents of children under 18. Working parents account for 31 percent of the state labor force, a similar percentage to the nation (33%). Parents of children under six years of age make up 14 percent of the state workforce, and those with children ages six to 17 years account for another 17 percent.

Parents in the Beaver State have average labor force participation rates compared with parents across the nation. Nationally, 81.8 percent of parents with children under 18 were in the labor force in 2019, compared with 82.0 percent in Oregon. Among men, 91.3 percent of Oregon dads are in the labor force, slightly lower than the national labor force participation rate of 93.4 percent. The participation rate of Oregon women with children under 18 is 74.0 percent, slightly higher than the nation’s 72.3 percent.

The Vast Majority of Oregon Parents Work

Parents are more likely to be working than people without children under 18. The participation rate for the Oregon population with no children under 18 is 55.5 percent, compared with 82.0 percent of parents with children under 18. This likely reflects an aging population and an increasing number of retired people. Participation for teens and young adults has also been lower in recent years than in decades past.

Labor force participation of parents differs by gender and the age of children. For parents of children under six years of age, there’s a big difference in the labor force experiences of men versus women. Of the men in this group, 92.4 percent are in the labor force, compared with 67.6 percent of Oregon mothers of children under age six. Oregon fathers in this group are slightly less likely to be in the labor force than the national average, and Oregon mothers of children under age six are slightly more likely to be working than the national average.

The gender gap in labor force participation is reduced somewhat for parents of children ages six to 17. For men with children ages six to 17, the participation rate was 90.2 percent in 2019, and 79.4 percent of Oregon women with children in that age range were in the labor force. The participation rate of men with children ages six to 17 is slightly lower than the national rate (92.0%). Oregon women’s participation rate is a couple of percentage points higher than the national rate of 76.8 percent for women with children ages six to 17.

For people without children under 18, the genders behave far more similarly in their likelihood of labor force participation. Men in this group had a participation rate of 59.8 percent compared with the women’s participation rate of 51.3 percent.

The Marriage Effect

Labor force participation varies depending on several factors. In addition to the age of the kids waiting for dinner at home and a worker’s gender, there’s the effect of marital status. Of Oregon’s 652,000 working parents, 507,000 – the vast majority – are married, with a spouse present. Another 145,000 have another marital status, which includes those never married, married with spouse absent, divorced, separated or widowed.

Overall, marital status didn’t have much impact on the likelihood of being in the labor force, with 81.7 percent of married parents in the labor force in 2019, compared with 82.8 percent of parents with another marital status.

Married parents show a wider variation in labor force participation between genders. Married mothers are less likely to work, with a participation rate of 71.3, while almost all married fathers of children under the age of 18 are in the labor force, with a participation rate of 91.9 percent.

Parents with any other marital status have very similar labor force participation between genders. Oregon mothers in this group had a labor force participation rate of 80.7 percent in 2019, compared with a participation rate of 87.7 percent among fathers.

Women Are More Likely to Work Part Time

Regardless of parental status, women are more likely than men to work part time. Across all employed Oregonians in 2019, 14 percent of men worked part time and 28 percent of women worked part time, meaning fewer than 35 hours a week at all jobs. About 417,000 Oregon workers work part time – that’s 154,000 Oregon men and 263,000 Oregon women. About one-quarter of Oregon’s part-time workers are parents of children under age 18.

The share of women working part time didn’t vary much by age or presence of children, at least in these broad groupings. It averaged 28 percent, with the largest share among employed females with children under the age of six at 29 percent. Men with children under age six were far less likely to work part time, with only 7 percent reporting such schedules. For those with children ages six to 17, 4 percent of employed men work part time.

Once again, for people without children under the age of 18, the employment experiences of the genders are more similar. In this group, 18 percent of men and 27 of women work part time.

Conclusion

Working parents make up about one-third of the Oregon workforce. Parents’ participation in the labor force varies depending on several factors, including the age of children, a worker’s gender, and marital status. Parents have high labor force participation rates, with the vast majority in the labor force and employed. For Oregon parents, working is the norm.

The COVID-19 recession has introduced new challenges for Oregon’s working parents, as they navigate and adjust to changes in schooling and at work. Some startling numbers are emerging about the situation for women in particular. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that across the nation 865,000 women ages 20 and over dropped out of the labor force in September 2020 – four times more than the number of men who left the labor force.

In coming months, we’ll learn more about how parents have been affected by recent changes. Workers continue to retire during this period as well, so the labor force changes can’t all be attributed to changes in the demands of parenting in the pandemic. The national labor force has lost 1.5 million men and 2.5 million women since September 2019. It remains to be seen how many labor force departures and job losses are permanent and how many will return as the COVID-19 crisis eases.

Jessica Nelson is an economist with the Oregon Employment Department. She may be reached at jessica.r.nelson@oregon.gov,or at 800-262-3912, Ext 71276.

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