Montgomery County town hall aims to help women return to work

With vaccination numbers up and COVID-19 restrictions going away, Montgomery County, Maryland, is trying to help more women get back into the workforce.

At a Friday town hall called “Bringing Women Back to Work,” Lynne Stein Benzion, with the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, said that currently, 1.9 million women remain unemployed, when compared to numbers seen at the beginning of 2020. Benzion said at the current pace, the labor market won’t recover its pandemic losses until at least summer 2022, and that time table is even longer for women.

“Women’s losses will take longer to recover, 28 months, that gets us to the fall of 2023,” Benzion said.

She said current data shows labor force participation among Black and Hispanic women continues to decline. The causes for that are not completely new, but the problem has been compounded by COVID-19, Benzion said.

Among those issues leading to the lower numbers are unaffordable child care, lower wages, unsafe working conditions, in-person work requirements and inconsistent unemployment benefits.

Delayed return to work due to child care

Montgomery County capacity limits have been lifted at child care facilities, but according to Jennifer Arnaiz, with Montgomery County Child Care Resource & Referral Center, enrollment has been slow to pick up, and that may be due, in part, to health concerns with sending children back.

“As women are going back into the workforce, I think it’s important to know that, at this time, child care is safe,” Arnaiz said.

She said the pandemic did lead to about 10% of child care facilities closing their doors.

The continued rising costs of child care may also be behind a parent’s decision not to return to work yet. If that is a factor, Arnaiz said there are public funds available to help families who meet income requirements for the aid programs.

What business can do

Morgan Wortham, with the Maryland Women’s Business Center, said there are steps businesses can take to make it easier for women trying to return to the workforce. Offering training and development programs is one way. Allowing flexibility with schedules can also help moms return sooner.

Wortham said at the center, while she’s encouraging employees to come back, staff are also looking at ways where technology can be used more.

“When you sort of have your work that’s more individual, you can do that remotely,” Wortham said.

Another step she recommends is to address health safety concerns surrounding COVID-19. For instance, she said she communicated with her staff at the center the decision and reasoning behind not allowing children who are too young to be vaccinated into the center.

Women shouldn’t sell themselves short

Tazeen Ahmad, with the Montgomery County Commission for Women, said some women don’t believe they are qualified for jobs for which they would be a great fit.

“As women, we often sell ourselves short,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad, whose organization helps women find a career, said staff get calls from women who believe a holding a position with a parent teacher organization or volunteering can’t help them get a job.

Not true, said Ahmad, since the activities that come with those positions, such as fundraising, event planning, and community organizing, can be transferable.

“Stay-at-home moms are often the best project managers because they have to be organized; they have to be able to multitask; they have to be able to manage people all the time,” Ahmad said.

From the county to the federal level, there are resources to help people trying to get back into the workforce, she said.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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