Half of U.S. Working Parents Are at Their Breaking Point as COVID-19 Variants Spread

By Jane Kellogg Murray

Updated August 31, 2022 | Published September 15, 2021

Updated August 31, 2022

Published September 15, 2021

Jane Kellogg Murray is a senior editor for Indeed. Based in Vermont and living on a Christmas tree farm, she enjoys helping others find suitable work opportunities through Indeed’s Career Guide.

Two parents sit at a table with their child. The parent on the right side of the table types on a laptop.

A year and a half ago, many working parents facing the COVID-19 pandemic encountered the seemingly impossible challenge of working from home with kids. Frontline and essential workers without an option to work from home scrambled to find child care, and single parents and caregivers felt the impact of school shutdowns two-fold. Now, as cases of the Delta variant rise and schools remain precarious, working parents may have reached their breaking point.

Indeed surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. working parents to learn more about how the pandemic has impacted their families and, subsequently, their careers.¹ More than half of working parents (54%) believe the level of uncertainty surrounding school and child care over the last 18 months is no longer sustainable.

In fact, the majority (nearly seven in 10) believe if this continues into 2022, one parent may need to leave the workforce. This statistic, of course, doesn't even account for the growing number of single-parent households, where quitting isn't a viable option. Read on for more of what our survey revealed.

Related: News: 48% of Women Saw Employer Support Decline During COVID-19

How COVID-19 is still impacting working parents

Working parents were hoping the 2021-22 school year would be easier than the last as the vaccine rollout progressed. 84% of survey respondents reported that the adults in their home have received a vaccination against COVID-19, and 69% of those whose children are old enough to receive the vaccine say they have done so. Instead, the school year opened with a nationwide Delta variant surge.

Here's how working parents are feeling about the pandemic now:

Parents are extremely concerned about the disease

43% of the parents we surveyed say they are either “terrified” (13%) or “very worried” (30%) that their children will catch the Delta variant of COVID-19. And with many children still not old enough to be vaccinated, working parents of children under the age of 12 were 25% more likely than parents of older children to feel this way.

Working parents have a choice—or do they?

Parents now find themselves facing a difficult decision about whether to keep their kids in school. 65% of those who have children with the option of learning remotely this year have opted to go that route, with 94% of these parents saying they'll send their kids back to in-person school only once the vaccine becomes available to all age groups.

Deep divisions over safety policies are adding to the stress these parents are feeling. Working parents who live in states that have banned schools from mandating masks were 29% more likely than those with state mask mandates to say that they are “very worried” about their children catching the virus. These parents were also 78% more likely than those in states with mask mandates to say that they do not feel confident their children will be safe at school this semester.

Of course, not everyone even has a choice—three in 10 working parents say their children's school isn't offering a remote learning option this school year. Respondents whose children attend private schools were 35% more likely than parents of children who attend public schools to say that they're being offered a remote learning option.

Related: Interview Question: “What's the Most Difficult Decision You've Had to Make?”

Working parents are worried about the impact of remote learning on their job

While not all parents are equally concerned about the virus—and not all kids are starting the school year remotely—nearly everyone is concerned that fully remote learning will happen again.

Seventy-six percent of working parents predict that their children's school will shut down or pivot to remote learning entirely at some point this school year due to COVID outbreaks. Another 73% say that even if their child stays healthy, they'll likely have to miss a week or more of school at some point during the year due to COVID exposure and quarantine protocols.

Inevitably, this has alarmed working parents about the implications school closures will have on their jobs. Sixty-nine percent of working parents say that helping their kids with remote learning negatively impacts their work performance, with 56% worried that the impact could be severe enough that their job is in jeopardy.

Many parents also agree that child care is even harder to secure now than it was before the pandemic, with only about half (51%) saying they have someone available who they can trust to help with child care or remote learning in the event of a quarantine event.

The other half would have to either help their kids with school while working (40%) or take time off from work (9%)—and women were 57% more likely than men to say they would have to take time off.

Some employers and colleagues are trying to help

Most employers have tried to relieve the burden on parents with flexible sick leave policies. Since the onset of the pandemic, 85% of parents surveyed said their employer gives them flexibility in dealing with child care lapses due to quarantine or illness, and 79% said their company policy allows them to take a sick day to care for ailing children.

A small majority (55%) even offer some level of financial or practical assistance with securing child care, but not all industries are equally likely to offer it:

  • Parents working in marketing and communication were 69% more likely than average to say their employer offers direct financial or practical assistance with child care. Those in banking and financial services were 29% more likely than average to have access to these benefits.

  • Professions that skew female were some of the least likely to do so: Those in education were 60% less likely than average to say their employer offers child care assistance, while those in healthcare were 47% less likely than average to report that their company offers this benefit.

Unfortunately, this well-intentioned benefit can also sometimes come with a downside. Parents whose employers offer child care assistance were 51% more likely to say that they're expected to “work as if they don't have kids” compared to those whose employers don't offer assistance.

Even those without these benefits feel they have to meet the same expectations, with 45% of all working parents surveyed saying that employers expect them to work as though they don't have children at home.

Many working parents are feeling burned out

These unrealistic working standards throughout the pandemic have led to widespread parental burnout. Six in 10 working parents surveyed agreed that when schools shut down at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, they had to make a choice: do well in their careers or help their kids do well in school.

Some industries proved especially challenging for working parents:

  • Marketing and communications: Parents in this field were 20% more likely than average to say that helping their children with remote school negatively impacted their job performance; they were also 32% more likely than average to admit they have considered leaving their job for one with greater flexibility.

  • Accounting: Respondents in this industry were 36% more likely than average to worry they'll receive a termination from their jobs due to problems caused by child care lapses.

  • Sales: Sales professionals were 63% more likely than average to say it is highly probable either they or their partner will need to exit the workforce if child care uncertainty continues into 2022.

Related: In Our Survey, 68% of U.S. Workers Say Their Job Is More Important Than Ever

Some working parents are ready to quit

As a result, some parents have officially reached their breaking point. More than half (54%) of working parents say that the level of uncertainty surrounding child care and schooling over the last 18 months is simply no longer sustainable for their families. 65% of working parents say they have considered switching to a job with greater flexibility.

Still, many parents anticipate that they might need to stop working altogether. 47% of working parents say they would rather quit their jobs than try to work while simultaneously helping their children with distance learning again. 

If child care and schooling uncertainty continues into 2022, 69% of working parents say it is “likely” (45%) or “highly likely” (24%) that either they or their partner will need to exit the workforce. This can be problematic for their future prospects: 68% of working parents fear long-term damage to their careers if they have to stop working—even temporarily—due to school closures or lapses in child care.

Single parents and caregivers or those that can't afford to exit the workforce may not even have this option, forced to continue working through burnout while juggling the responsibility of working with kids at home.

¹ Indeed survey, n=1,002 working full-time in the U.S. who are a parent or legal guardian of at least one child aged 17 or younger who lives with them and attends public or private school in grades K-12.

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