School closures could keep 18 million parents from seeking jobs

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As many as 18 million Americans may put off looking for a job as long as schools are closed, limiting the labor-market recovery.

The calculation is based on the employment rate for the 47 million parents with children under 12, assuming at least one parent has to stay off work to provide childcare, according to a Bloomberg Economics report. The estimate includes parents who have already left the workforce as well as those who are at risk of losing their jobs.

While the U.S. labor market has rebounded somewhat following unprecedented job losses in March and April, the pace of gains is slowing, and school closures will be another constraint on the economic recovery. In most states, schools haven’t opened for in-person classes, and those that have opened could close again if COVID-19 cases rise.

More than half of the 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic have not yet returned, according to Bloomberg Economics. Roughly 25 million parents are currently facing the choice between employment and family responsibilities, according to the report.

“Based on our estimates, progress may stall or even reverse as a result of the school closures and other virus-related disruptions,” Bloomberg economist Yelena Shulyatyeva said in the report. “Looking beyond the immediate pace of the recovery, this will have negative implications for long-term economic growth, living standards and equality.”

So-called shadow joblessness, defined as Americans who have stopped looking for work, spiked to 8 million at the peak of the pandemic, and remains 5 million above pre-crisis levels, according to Bloomberg Economics. School closures will continue to impact this number, especially the labor force participation rate for women, who generally take on a greater share of childcare obligations.

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