Jennifer Freeman never saw her furlough coming.
Dr. Linnaea Scott walked away from her job as a veterinarian to care for her children.
And Kate McCarthy is making things up as she goes along in an effort to break into the entertainment business.
All are coping with the effects of the pandemic and they are not alone.
In January, another 275,000 women dropped out of the labor force, accounting for nearly 80% of all workers over the age of 20 who left the work force last month, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of the latest jobs report.
That brings the total number of women who have left the workforce since February 2020 to more than 2.3 million and it puts the women’s participation rate at 57%, the lowest it has been since 1988, according to the center.
That doesn’t even include women who have been forced to leave the workplace because of school closures and day care centers. They are not included in the calculated unemployment rate, according to Emily Martin of the NWLC.
By comparison, nearly 1.8 million men have left the workforce during the same period.
Talk to women and you will learn some of the reasons for that discrepancy.
Freeman, of South Pasadena, had worked for Kaplan Test Prep for 12 years before being furloughed in April and then laid off in September.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” she said.
Freeman said she thought she might be brought back but then she heard rumblings of layoffs, which proved true. She recalls she was told of the furlough by video conference and she was most shocked that someone her junior was kept at the company.
One thing she doesn’t feel is that the layoffs were decided by who was a woman.
She had been hired by Kaplan while she was pregnant and worked online for 10 of the 12 years with the company. She recruited and hired experienced nurses to help their younger colleagues pass state board examinations.
“I got a nice severance so we’ve been OK,” she said. “The severance has been carrying us through and we were doing OK financially.”
The family finances have taken another hit because her husband is also out of work. He worked as a teacher of after-school classes and also tutored students. Both jobs have dried up and he now is looking to get a job in the difficult-to-find positions at community colleges and universities.
Freeman said that at 50 years old and with a 12-year-old son, she wants to make the “right move.”
“I want to find out what I want to do next,” she said. “I’m not there yet.
“When I was furloughed, it was a shock, but it has also been a blessing,” Freeman added. “I worked very hard with long hours in my job and I feel I’ve missed a lot of things. This time off has given me a break. It’s really been a blessing.”
Dr. Linnaea Scott is in a profession deemed essential— that of being a veterinarian at TLC Veterinary on Huntington Drive, where she had worked for 14 years. She and her husband Paul looked at each other’s jobs and decided his — running a COVID-19 testing lab — was more essential, so she gave up her job and has been home with the children, ages 9 and 11.
“Things are OK,” she said. “We see light on the horizon. Schools are opening. I never realized how much life circulates around schools.”
She took a month off last March and then used unpaid leave before working part-time during the summer when she made the decision to leave TLC.
“It was so hard. It was one of the hardest decisions for our family and for me,” she said. “Yet it was one of the easiest as it was the most sensible option for our family.
“I’m blessed with a gender-even marriage,” Scott added. “I know he would have done the same for me if the situation had been reversed.”
Her parents live a few doors down, but they are in their 80s and she did not think it was fair to ask them to deal daily with two active children. She also did not want someone to watch the children because it would burst the “safety bubble” she placed around her family and parents.
So she stepped away from a profession she has been in for 18 years.
“If there were such a thing as guaranteed safety for my children, I would have stayed,” she said. “There is guilt in leaving one’s job, no matter what it is.”
The pandemic has strained many marriages because the husband or wife has to stay home and take care of children, or because of a severe cut in incomes. That hasn’t been the case with the Scotts.
“We were very lucky to have a 12-year marriage that has not been shaken by the pandemic,” said Scott, who added that the family has not been severely impacted financially. “Yes, there were scary times at the beginning of the pandemic where I worried about Paul working in a COVID lab, where it felt he had been deployed in a war zone. I think a lot of spouses of frontline workers felt fear like that, and had tests on their marriage unlike anything they had ever felt.”
Scott said that she tries to get the children walking before school and doing some activity afterwards to burn off their energy.
Like Freeman, Scott said that a silver lining is that she gets to spend more time with her children.
“My greatest hope for our children is that they come through this unscathed and just look back on this year as the year I spent a lot of time with mommy,” she said.
Scott said that she also now realizes the appeal of home schooling.
“You connect with things in a different way,” she said. “There is a satisfaction of months of studying and doing fractions with your children.”
That “light on the horizon” that Scott talks about includes the reopening of schools. She hopes to return to work in April, probably part-time for several months while her children have a mixed home-and-school hybrid schedule.
“I understand and respect this is what we need to do to keep everyone safe,” she said. “But it’s also why I cannot return to the workforce full-time for quite a while.”
McCarthy would love just to get into the workforce full-time. She’s 23 and arrived on the West Coast to be with her sister, who is an officer in the U.S. Navy. Her sister shipped out from San Diego and McCarthy came to Los Angeles, where she has been housesitting and hosting an online camp for children.
She’s got a strong resumé; she has been an intern for television shows hosted by Samantha Bee and Conan O’Brien.
And she has worked at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Second City in Chicago. She’s done standup comedy at clubs, but where can you find a club that is open these days?
“Life kind of led me here, so there’s less bitterness. Things are less urgent,” she said. “I’m still applying for industry jobs. I’ve got a pretty good resume, but I get lost in the internet when I apply. I can never get through the door.
“This has been a real year of sitting with myself and finding joy in places that I normally wouldn’t look,” McCarthy continued. “I’m doing writing projects and working with short films. It is giving me time to try and find my identity.”
She’s found an apartment to share in Highland Park, and while she’s trying to find that identity she’s got a job at Dodger Stadium helping give COVID-19 vaccinations.
“I’ve got to embrace the moment,” she said. “It’s a complete departure from what I came here for.”