The start of the virtual school year has been a struggle for Patricia Reveles, a pharmacy technician at a CVS in Los Angeles, whose daughter is in fourth grade.
Reveles, 49, is single and has long relied on her mother to help with child care. But she realized during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic that remote learning required more tech savvy than her mother could provide. Her 9-year-old daughter needed an adult to help her when the internet went out or her iPad froze, Reveles said.
So Reveles recently asked CVS, where she has worked for more than 20 years, to reduce her hours to 24 per week so that she could be home during the day to help her daughter while allowing her to keep some of the benefits that come with being a full-time employee.
“I like my job and I am thankful for it, but I am a single parent and I can’t be there for my daughter,” she said. A CVS spokesman said the company was working with Reveles’ union to try to accommodate her request.
Reveles is not alone. As the pandemic wears on and school begins across the country, women working in retail say they are being forced to choose between keeping their jobs and making sure their children can keep up with remote learning.
Women in all types of jobs are feeling this squeeze. According to a study last month by the Census Bureau, women were three times more likely than men to have left their job because of child-care issues during the pandemic.
But the inflexibility of retail work schedules — where shifts can vary widely week to week and employees have little choice but to take the hours they are given — makes the pressure on those employees particularly acute and likely to lead to more women dropping out of the workforce.
“The caregiving responsibilities outside of work are falling heavier on women than on men, and the retail sector in particular is one where you generally don’t have a lot of control over your schedule, which can lead to a real crunch,” said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the nonprofit National Women’s Law Center.
The retail industry, the second-biggest private-sector employer in the United States after health care, has been roiled by the pandemic, with millions of people out of work. Women made up nearly half of the 15.7 million workers in retail before the pandemic, but they accounted for 65% of the industry’s job losses between February and June, according to a report from the center.
Those who have kept their jobs were heralded as heroes and rewarded with bonuses and temporary raises during the early months of the pandemic. However, many of these same retail workers find themselves struggling to fulfill endless parenting obligations while hanging onto jobs that seem increasingly precarious in a weak economy.
Amazon is offering 10 days of subsidized child care, asking employees to cover no more than $35 a day for day-care centers and $5 an hour for in-house babysitters. The benefit ends next month.
Rachel Belz, who was an Amazon warehouse worker in West Deptford, N.J., said she needed more coverage.
Before she left her job this month, she was ending her shift at 5 a.m. and then getting only a few hours of sleep before having to get up to watch her son, who is in kindergarten.
“I am not asking you to take care of my kid,” said Belz, 32, who is a member of United for Respect, a worker advocacy group. “I am asking you to make it easier for me to take care of my kid.”
Amazon said it was taking other steps to accommodate working parents, like allowing employees to start shifts at as many as 10 different times during the day and night.
The company said the changes are meant “to provide our associates with more options to work around their child/children’s schedules.”