Posted by: Josh Lehner | March 31, 2020

COVID-19: Working Parents and Educators

“Everyone’s a Keynesian in a foxhole” is a popular economics phrase describing how public policy is important, especially in recessions. Riffing off of that I think we need to add “every parent’s an educator in a quarantine” to the list as well. Schools across the country are increasingly closed or on hiatus until next school year. That means the kids are spending more time at home.

During this period of social distancing, we are all facing issues and challenges we haven’t had to deal with before, or not at this scale. For parents and guardians that means more childcare duties and finding enough activities and projects to educate and entertain the kids, while also trying to limit the blessed and cursed screen time. There are myriad resources online to help and thankfully schools across Oregon are now rolling out their lesson plans and materials for students to work on moving forward. The State is also working on Distance Learning for All.

A couple years weeks ago our office dug into Census data to better understand what impacts social distancing may have on Oregonians based upon how we live. Today I wanted to touch on two things regarding Oregon households with children, mixing demographics and economics.

First, let’s explore Oregon households along a few different dimensions. The Venn diagram below segments households based on whether or not an adult is working, whether the household has children, and whether or not the household includes an educator. Here I am defining educator broadly. It includes adults working in occupations related to education (teachers, professors, librarians, etc) in addition to childcare workers, and then anyone else who holds an education degree. Being a good parent or possessing the characteristics, temperament, or skills that good teachers have isn’t necessarily unique, but we know educators do have more training and experience along these lines than the rest of us. If my household is any indication — my wife is an educator, I am not — these skills and training are extremely useful today! Some of us struggle more than others.

In 2018 there were 1.64 million households in the state. 28% of these households (454,000) had at least one child. 94% of those households with children had at least one adult working (427,000 or 26% of all households), including 68,000 with an educator (15% of households with kids, or 4% of all households). You can see how all these different segments of Oregonian households overlap below. Closed schools in Oregon directly affects about 1 in 3 households as kids stay home or educators are not going into work. Of course social distancing more broadly affects more that that, but just this piece touches a lot Oregonians.

The second aspect to explore today is looking at trends among working parents in Oregon. While we are now consistently seeing about 1 percent of Oregon fathers not working and staying home specifically to take care of the family, we know that household duties, kin keeping, and emotional labor primarily fall on mothers. For that reason I want to focus on working moms for a minute. (Also, see our office’s previous report on Stay-At-Home Parents for more.)

A few years ago our office predicted that one source of available labor in a strong economy would be moms. There was a rising share of moms staying at home during the 2000s. Some of this increase was likely cultural or societal, but some was also likely due to economic conditions: job availability, flexible schedules, high enough wages to cover childcare costs, etc. Between the late 1990s and mid-2010s the biggest change that occurred was among mothers of elementary school-aged kids. They were staying home to a much larger degree than before. Well, as you can see in the chart below, there has been a strong reversal of these trends in recent years. Labor force participation rates among Oregon moms of elementary school-aged children has increased considerably in the strong labor market.

One concern is not just that we lose a lot of jobs during a recession, but employment also tends to follow the last in, first out pattern overall. So all of the labor force gains we have seen among some disadvantaged or overlooked groups — be it racial or ethnic, geographic, based on educational attainment, age, physical ability and so forth — may be undone in a matter of months during the recession. I would add these labor force gains among Oregon moms to that watch list as well.

All told, COVID-19 and social distancing is putting all of us in situations we haven’t been in before. We need to keep in mind that these policies do work. If we follow them, we will flatten the curve and see public health improvements. As for what comes after that, and key metrics, policies and steps, I found this plan from the American Enterprise Institute helpful in thinking about it. Closer to home, our office is continuing to research COVID-19’s impact on Oregon, the economy and public tax collections. In the weeks ahead we will meet with our advisors multiple times as we develop the updated outlook.


  1. In my view, a reference to the American Enterprise Institute document needs to be counterbalanced, or not offered by a state employee.

    • Hi Jane,

      I understand we all can have reflexive reactions to different sources of information, and that AEI has an ideological bent much of the time. That said, I found their plan, or outline to be helpful in thinking through the next steps of the public health situation. I have edited the post to hopefully help reflect that instead of just recommending the piece. If there is something to that report specifically that is an issue, I would like to know what it is, and if there is another step by step outline of what’s to come, I would like to know what about that too! I have seen little in that regard, at least publicly.


  2. […] Source: COVID-19: Working Parents and Educators | Oregon Office of Economic Analysis […]

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