With the rapid growth of the US economy, millions of people have returned to work. Yet there is still a large group of Americans whose employment rates remain well below their pre-pandemic levels – mothers of young children.
Consider this data, which Moody’s Analytics compiled for The Morning:
The explanation is pretty obvious. Many schools and daycares have not resumed their normal activities. They are only open a few hours a day, a few days a week, or alternating weeks, making it difficult for parents to find full-time employment. And parental responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women.
This situation is unlikely to change in the last month or two of the current school year. But this raises a major question about the next school year, in August and September: will schools reopen completely – every day, Monday through Friday and every week?
If they don’t and instead maintain a hybrid approach, it will come at a high cost to American women. The biggest gender equality issue in 2021 may well be whether schools return to normal this fall.
“Making schools fully open is the most important thing,” my colleague Claire Cain Miller, who writes on gender and work, told me. “Obviously parents can’t go back to work without it.”
“It’s not enough to sort of open up,” said Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University who studies parenting. “We’re going to have to figure out how to make normal opening possible.”
Is it safe to open?
Fortunately, the available data indicates that it is safe for schools to return to normal hours in the fall. Almost all teachers have already had the chance to be vaccinated. In August, all children aged 12 and over will likely have had the opportunity to do this as well. (The Pfizer vaccine is now available for people 16 and older, and federal regulators appear poised to approve it for 12 to 15 year olds in the coming weeks.)
Few younger children – perhaps none – will have been vaccinated by the fall. But data from the United States and other countries suggests that children rarely infect each other at school. One of the reasons is that Covid-19 tends to be gentle on young children, making them less likely to be symptomatic and contagious.
More importantly, this coronavirus rarely harms children. For them, the death rate resembles that of a normal flu, and other symptoms, such as “long Covid”, are extremely rare. Covid presents the kind of small risk to children’s health that society has long accepted without closing schools. A child who is driven to school is almost certainly at greater risk from this car trip than from the virus.
Of course, the risk of Covid is not zero, which is why many school districts are still wondering what to do in the fall. Covid has dominated our thinking so much over the past 14 months that many people continue to focus on Covid-related issues – however very unusual or rare – to the exclusion of everything else.
Covid presents a tiny risk to children. And there will also be teachers and other school employees who choose not to be vaccinated or who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons; some of them may have to stay at home if schools reopen.
For these reasons, a complete reopening of schools will entail real costs and complications, albeit modest. Communities will have to weigh these costs against the enormous damage closed schools do to American women.
Hybrid schooling also hurts children, and schools should not continue it in the fall, says David Zweig in New York Magazine.
The Blue States have been the slowest to reopen their schools, and parental frustration poses a political risk to the Democratic Party, writes Ross Douthat of The Times.
“Even in normal times, the labor force participation of parents, especially mothers, is lower here than in most other developed countries,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told me. He noted that President Biden’s economic plan attempts to address this issue.
In a recent Times article, Claire Cain Miller described ideas to help working parents during the pandemic.
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The many lives of one song
Musicians have been re-recording popular songs – and sometimes sending them to the top of the charts – for decades. But in recent years, many artists have released remixes of the same song.
Consider Florida rapper SpotemGottem: over a year ago he released the song “Beat Box”. A remix, “Beat Box 2”, arrived in December, followed briefly by “Beat Box 3”, “Beat Box 4” and, last month, “Beat Box 5”. Together, listeners have played the songs hundreds of millions of times.
The strategy is to “extract the maximum value from a single song,” writes Jon Caramanica in The Times. He calls it “a fancy promotional solution: if people decide they want to listen to your song, just give them more.” Lil Nas X also retained his flagship song, “Old Town Road,” to top the Billboard Hot 100 for a record 19 weeks in 2019, thanks in part to remixes, which helped him maintain his stardom despite the does -length album.
Often times, these remixes can be substantial, adding a new layer to the song. But sometimes it’s a slightly edited version that’s more obviously a ploy for game streams. “For younger artists, especially those catching fire on TikTok, extending the life of a song,” writes Caramanica, “is crucial in laying the groundwork for luck beyond a viral career. – Sanam Yar, morning writer
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
Friday’s spelling pangram was exultant. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play it online.
Here are today’s mini-crosswords and a hint: Prepare for a Race (Five Letters).
If you want to play more, find all of our games here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. – David
PS TV stations first broadcast the Kentucky Derby live 69 years ago today. New Yorkers “have flocked to neighborhood bars for their televisions,” the Times reported.