ADr. Amaka Nnamani loved her job as a pediatrician in Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA. She describes it as a “dream job”.
Nnamani, 38, had two young children, then ages eight and six, and was pregnant with a third when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
The doctor was affected by the “harsh reality” of having to homeschool her older children, while recovering from the birth of her son in the summer of 2020.
“We didn’t get much help,” he says.
Unable to find a child care center in the midst of the pandemic, the couple struggled with consistently not having a place to care for their children. Soon, she tells her, “it just became too much for me. I still loved my patients. I still loved my colleagues, but it was not sustainable. So after a lot of thinking and praying, I handed in my resignation.”
Today, Nnamani is self-employed as a consultant, breastfeeding educator, and author. She has joined the growing group of people who have left traditional employment amid the pandemic.
According to the US Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), there has been a huge increase in the number of Americans who report being self-employed.
Of course, becoming an entrepreneur offers many opportunities and benefits, including the flexibility that workers increasingly crave in the age of the pandemic.
However, there is a negative narrative behind the data.
For women like Nnamani, leaving traditional employment seemed less of an option than a necessity.
In the wake of the pandemic and in the midst of an ongoing child care crisis, women, especially mothers, are being pushed out of the traditional employment market as they see self-employment less as a want than a necessity.
Who is setting out to work for themselves and why
Between 2019 and the first half of 2022, the proportion of self-employed Americans within the total group of workers grew by 4%, representing an increase of 600,000 people, according to CEPR researchers.
And the biggest increase was among women, who reported recently becoming self-employed at a rate roughly double that of men.
Some of the increase can be attributed to people “reinventing themselves” and their work situations during the pandemic, says Misty L. Heggeness, an associate professor in the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs and Management. .).
“A traditional nine to five office hours, even if it was remote during the pandemic, really wasn’t working, especially for mothers. Partly because it’s so hard to work, even if you’re telecommuting, while your kids are still at home,” she says.
Heggeness adds that the need for greater flexibility made self-employment especially desirable for mothers.
“I think there are moms who really got tired of having to juggle it all, but wanted to stay committed to work and their career. They decided that one way to do that was through self-employment, trying to find a better balance between work and personal life, becoming their own boss.”
This search for a better work setup explains why some of the more than a million American women dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, says Heggeness.
The expert believes that some left simply because they could. “When all of this fell on them, they either had enough resources and savings, or they had a spouse who had enough income to stop working to take care of the children,” she says.
But for many others, giving up an income was not an option, but neither was staying in a job that made it impossible for them to care for their families.
“It’s like choosing under constraints,” says Heggeness. “There were a lot of mothers who couldn’t afford to stop working. The fact is that your income is critical and essential to the well-being of that household. You need that income to buy food and put it on the table, put a roof over your family’s head, to equip your family with clothes… These are the women who may be disproportionately taking on self-employment.”
According to Julie Cai, an economist who contributed to CEPR’s research, the biggest factor that contributed to women moving into self-employment was whether they had children of primary school age.
“Even after controlling for many factors,” says Cai, the CEPR data shows that “parents with children under the age of six present in the household are more likely to be self-employed.” This was especially true among women with lower incomes and those without a college education.
The expert explains that low-wage workers faced the greatest difficulties in keeping their jobs during the pandemic because those jobs were the most unpredictable.
“Some of those hourly workers faced involuntary volatile shifts. The employer could demand that they work more hours or cut them without notice,” says Cai.
The crisis of
When Nnamani first went back to work in late 2020, after giving birth to their son, she and her husband tried to put together a schedule that would allow them both to work without child care, which was nearly impossible to find due to lockdowns. for the pandemic.
“My husband changed his shifts to work from 3 pm to 11 pm, and my neighbors watched the baby for an hour or two before I got home from work,” she says. “He was pretty crazy and extremely stressful.”
Ultimately, that lack of child care pushed Nnamani over the edge and made her decide to quit. She certainly is not alone. An ongoing job crisis in the child care industry has left many families without qualified care for their children while parents are at work.
“Childcare is a major problem; it has been for a long time,” says Heggeness. “It’s very, very expensive, and places are limited or non-existent in many parts of the country. You have situations where people get pregnant and go to a daycare waiting list (before the baby is born).”
In the US, data from 2018 shows that more than 51% of people live in “child care deserts,” which the Center for American Progress defines as an area where there are three times as many children as there are child care slots. .
Chronic staffing shortages in child care centers are exacerbating the problem for mothers who want to stay in the workforce. Even with the drop in Covid-19 cases, child care centers continue to hemorrhage workers and fail to catch up on pre-pandemic ground.
Between February 2020 and September 2022, more than 100,000 jobs were lost in the sector, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Anecdotes from child care providers detail the loss of employees who preferred to go to work in retail and other services, where many companies offer high hourly rates and bonuses.
“It’s a broader issue for the entire economy and for economic growth and our ability to thrive as a nation,” says Heggeness. “The fact is that we continue to stifle the ability of people, predominantly women, to fully participate in the labor market.”
The search for a solution
Despite these facts, some moms are still finding a silver lining in self-employment. Nnamani says that she has been able to spend more time with her children and continue to breastfeed her youngest child.
To earn income, she formed a business around breastfeeding education; she works as an independent consultant for hospital systems and recently published a children’s book on the subject.
“I miss being in the office and seeing those kids,” says the former pediatrician. “What I do love is the flexibility that I have with my time and the freedom that I have. But I absolutely miss those relationships with my patients.”
However, Heggeness points out that even this benefit of flexibility may have underlying drawbacks. “We are seeing a higher proportion of women in occupations where there is this kind of flexibility to choose when and how to work,” she says. There are studies that indicate that women prefer remote work, for example, at a higher rate than men, “but the negative side … is that sometimes we are directing people towards types of work that put them in vulnerable situations” .
He adds that there are additional vulnerabilities that can arise from becoming self-employed such as the economic effects, despite the professional progress you have made in self-employment.
Overall, Cai says the simplest solution to prevent women from turning to involuntary self-employment is for employers to provide stability in the form of more predictable hours and childcare programs. She adds that this may be particularly important for women with lower incomes or less education.