Economy will suffer if women can’t return to the workforce at pre-COVID levels, say experts

Charlotte Schwartz has four children under the age of 10, one with special needs. She also has a full-time career as a legal clerk at a busy family law practice in Toronto, and since the pandemic forced people into their homes in March, she’s been doing both her jobs around the clock with little reprieve.

“I’ve started to shift my day,” said Schwartz, 37. “So, I do a bunch of stuff pretty early in the morning, a bunch of stuff late at night, but it’s very … exhausting.”

Schwartz is one of millions of women who have been juggling full workloads and full child-care responsibilities during the pandemic, and the strain of the situation is starting to show.

While one might think, in 2020, that strain would fall equally on the shoulders of all parents, that’s not what the data shows. During COVID-19, women’s participation in the Canadian workforce has fallen to a level not seen in decades, and with uncertain school plans and few options for child care, some women are not returning to work.

“Some of the women who were laid off are actually not looking anymore, that’s deeply concerning,” said Jennifer Reynolds, CEO of Toronto Financial International, a firm aimed at boosting investment in the city and encouraging women’s participation in the workforce.

“If we don’t get women back to work in the types of numbers we saw before … we won’t get the economic growth that we really need.”

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