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Bipartisan Policy Center – Morning Consult Poll: Caregiving Led Adults Out of the Workforce During COVID-19 and Paid Family Leave Can Help Bring Them Back

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School and child care program closures, as well as widespread illness, have resulted in historic caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. To better understand the labor market implications of these challenges, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult conducted a poll on the impact that caregiving has had on workers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the role that paid family leave has and can play in helping adults balance caregiving and work. The poll finds that since the onset of COVID-19, many workers have had no choice but to cut back their work hours or leave their job all together. Meanwhile, paid family leave has helped the vast majority of those with access to the benefit continue to work and would have helped a substantial portion of those who did not have a paid leave benefit. Many individuals also felt that paid family leave would help them return to work or increase their work hours.

Key Results

  • Of those who stopped working during the pandemic, 15%–roughly 10.6 million workers—cited caregiving as a reason.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of Black and Hispanic caregivers say that their caregiving responsibilities impacted their ability to work during the pandemic.
  • 71% of workers with the option to take paid family leave say that it helped them continue to work, including 86% of parents with children under 12.
  • 38% of unemployed workers today say they would be more likely to return to work sooner if they had access to paid family leave, including 47% of unemployed parents.
  • 53% of workers who reduced their work hours during the pandemic say that they would be more likely to increase their hours if they had access to paid family leave.

Survey Parameters

Morning Consult polled a national sample of 2,200 adults. The poll was conducted between April 6-April 14, 2021.

Key Takeaways

Caregiving played a substantial role in disrupting work during the pandemic.

  • Caregiving was a factor for over 10 million adults who stopped working during COVID-19, and over 3 million who left the labor force.
    • Of those who stopped working, 15% cited caregiving as a reason. That translates to roughly 10.6 million adults stopping work, at least in part, due to caregiving.1
    • Among those who stopped working during the COVID-19 pandemic:
      • 8% cited caregiving demands resulting from school or child care center closures.
      • 9% cited caregiving responsibilities for other family members or relatives.
      • Black adults (22%) were three times as likely as white adults (7%) to cite caregiving for other family members or relatives.
    • Men were more likely than women to cite caregiving as a reason they stopped working.
      • Of those who stopped working, 10% of women and 19% of men cited caregiving.2
    • Among those who stopped working and didn’t look for work, 8% to 11% cited caregiving. This translates to 3.4 million to 4.6 million workers leaving the labor force, at least in part, due to caregiving.
  • Caregiving also contributed to nearly 12 million workers reducing their work hours.
    • During the COVID-19 pandemic, work hours declined for 30% of all adults, including 46% of adults with children under 2 and 43% of caregivers.
    • 19% of adults reduced their work hours voluntarily.
    • Of those who reduced their work hours, 16% or 11.7 million workers, reduced their work hours due to caregiving responsibilities.3
    • Of those who reduced their work hours:
      • 9% cited caregiving demands resulting from school or child care program closures.
      • 9% cited caregiving responsibilities for other family and relatives.
    • Among caregivers who reduced their hours, men (19%) were more likely than women (14%) to cite caregiving as a result of school or child care program closures, and women (24%) were more likely than men (14%) to cite caring for other family members.
  • Caregiving responsibilities have substantially impacted the ability to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among communities of color.
    • 57% of caregivers say that their caregiving responsibilities significantly (25%) or somewhat (32%) impacted their ability to work.
      • Men (65%) were more likely than women (48%) to say that caregiving impacted their ability to work.
      • 71% of parents with children under 2 say that caregiving impacted their ability to work (41% significantly impacted).
    • Caregiving has particularly impacted ability to work among for communities of color. Those who say caregiving impacted their ability to work include:
      • 66% Black caregivers (39% significantly and 27% somewhat),
      • 66% of Hispanic caregivers (35% significantly and 31% somewhat), and
      • 55% of white caregivers (24% significantly and 31% somewhat).

Those who had the option to take paid family leave say they used it and that it helped them continue to work.

  • Although paid family leave is only available to a minority of workers, those with the benefit used it at high rates over the past year.
    • Overall, 28% of currently employed workers had the option to take paid family leave over the past year.
      • Employed men (36%) are twice as likely as women (18%) to have the option to take paid family leave.
    • Among those who had access to paid family leave, 51% used the benefit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • Within this group, men (55%) used paid family leave more frequently than women (41%).
    • The vast majority of those who had the option to take paid family leave say that it helped them continue to work.
      • 71% of adults with paid family leave say that it significantly (44%) or somewhat (27%) helped them continue to work.
      • Paid family leave was particularly helpful for parents and caregivers who had access to the benefit.
        • 77% of parents say that paid family leave significantly (51%) or somewhat (26%) helped them continue to work.
        • 86% of parents with children under 12 say that the benefit significantly (56%) or somewhat (29%) helped them continue to work.
        • 87% of caregivers say that paid family leave significantly (56%) or somewhat (31%) helped them continue to work.
      • Paid family leave was also particularly helpful for Black and Hispanic workers. Those with the option to take paid family leave and say it helped them continue to work include:
        • 69% of white adults (41% significantly and 28% somewhat),
        • 78% of Hispanic adults (47% significantly and 31% somewhat), and
        • 73% of black adults (53% significantly and 20% somewhat).

Those who did not have the option to take paid family leave say that it would have helped them work.

  • Overall, 34% of currently employed workers without access to paid family leave say that it would have significantly (13%) or somewhat (21%) helped them continue to work over the past year.
  • Paid family leave would have been particularly beneficial to workers struggling to balance work and caregiving responsibilities.
    • Of those who say caregiving impacted their ability to work, 57% reported that paid family leave would have significantly (26%) or somewhat (31%) helped them continue to work.
    • Of those who reduced work hours due to caregiving, 57% say that paid family leave would have significantly (27%) or somewhat (30%) helped them continue to work.

Paid family leave would help adults return to work and increase their work hours.

  • A substantial portion of jobless workers say they would be more likely to return to work if they would have the option to take paid family leave.
    • 38% of current unemployed workers say that they would be very (23%) or somewhat (15%) more likely to return to work sooner if they had the option to take paid family leave.
    • 59% of unemployed workers who are actively seeking work say that they would be very (42%) or somewhat (17%) more likely to return to work sooner if they had the option to take paid family leave.
    • 47% of unemployed parents say that they would be very (21%) or somewhat (26%) more likely to return to work sooner if they had the option to take paid family leave.
    • Half (50%) of Black unemployed workers say they would be very (33%) or somewhat (17%) more likely to return to work sooner, compared to 35% of white unemployed workers (19% very and 16% somewhat).
  • Those who cut back their work hours during the COVID-19 pandemic say they would be more likely to increase their hours if they had paid family leave.
    • Among those whose hours declined during the pandemic, 53% say they would be very (23%) or somewhat (30%) more likely to increase their hours if they had the option to take paid family leave.
    • Paid family leave would particularly help increase hours among caregivers.
      • 73% of caregivers whose work hours declined say that they would be very (32%) or somewhat (41%) more likely to increase their work hours if they had the option to take paid family leave.
      • 81% of those who say caregiving impacted their ability to work indicated that they would be very (39%) or somewhat (42%) more likely to increase their work hours if they had the option to take paid family leave.

End Notes:

1 The calculated numbers of adults who stopped working (10.6 million), left the labor force (3.4 million to 4.6 million), and reduced work hours (11.7 million) due to caregiving are inferences of the survey results but are not direct findings of the survey. Those figures are calculated by applying the survey findings to the Current Population Survey’s estimated civilian noninstitutional population of those 18 years and older in March 2021.
2 This poll finds that men are more likely than women to report that caregiving impacted their work. While unexpected, there are a number of potential reasons behind this trend. First, in this survey, men more frequently than women report being a caregiver and having the option to take paid family leave. If workers count their family leave as stopping work due to caregiving, these two characteristics will result in men reporting work interruptions due to caregiving more often than women. Second, the caregiving associated with working from home could have been a larger change for men than for women relative to before the pandemic. If women were already handling the majority of caregiving responsibilities before COVID-19, then the new caregiving for men could have been a larger increase than for women. Due to data and sample size limitations, we are unable to fully explore these possibilities and others, which merit further study.
3 There is likely overlap between those who stopped working due to caregiving and those who reduced work hours due to caregiving. Within the entire sample of adults, of those who either stopped working or reduced work hours (for any reason), 39% reported both stopping work and reducing work hours.

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