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AP examines troubling trend of women dropping out of the workforce

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The switch to online learning across America during the pandemic was a massive transfer of responsibility from schools to parents. As parents scrambled to manage their own work and their kids’ remote learning, AP business reporters Alexandra Olson and Cathy Bussewitz wanted to know how that shift impacted families, and specifically the careers of mothers and fathers.

With an assist from economics reporter Christopher Rugaber, they dug into the data, finding that in order to tend to their children, working mothers were giving up their careers more so than working fathers. They spoke to Angela Wynn, who shuttered her small business so that she could navigate her five children through school and Anna Hamilton, who quit her job at a small investment firm so she could take care of her two sons.

Labor Department figures showed that women in their prime-earning years were dropping out of the labor force faster than other groups. Research based on the Current Population Survey deepened the picture: more mothers than fathers have cut back their working hours since the pandemic began.

Olson and Bussewitz tapped into parenting networks on social media to seek families in this situation,and were surprised by the number of women who had decided to scale back or quit and wanted to share their stories. What emerged from their reporting was evidence of a trend that threatens decades of hard-fought gains by working women, who are still far from achieving labor force parity with men.

The reporters were surprised by the number of women who wanted to share their stories.

With the school year starting,the story resonated with editors and readers. The piece was used by more than 200 AP members and saw strong engagement on social media. Several outlets followed the AP and did similar stories,some even going to the same women the team had interviewed.

For timely reporting that documents a disturbing social and economic trend brought on by the pandemic, Olson and Bussewitz win this week’s Best of the States award.

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