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COVID-19 pandemic forces some parents to choose family over work

When schools closed in the spring, Jeannette Boner and her husband Brad Boner had to juggle their full-time jobs while parenting two young children.

The stress piled up to the point that Jeannette said she knew they couldn’t sustain both their jobs once the next school year started. Ultimately, it was Jeannette who left her job as the managing editor at the Teton Valley News in Driggs, but it was a difficult decision.

“I wasn’t ready to leave,” she said.

A study by the Pew Research Center reported a sharp decline of working mothers and fathers in April, near the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. Though the employment rate among parents has increased since then, the study shows that the rate is still 5-6% below what it was for mothers and fathers at this time last year.

Idaho’s unemployment rate increased from 4.2% in August to 6.1% in September, according to the Idaho Department of Labor’s unemployment insurance reports. The department’s unemployment dashboard reports an equal percentage of men and women filed unemployment claims within that period.

Jan Roeser, labor economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, said the increase in claims from August to September equates to roughly 19,000 additional unemployed Idahoans. The department does not track if unemployment claims come from parents, but Roeser said she believes the recent increase correlates to the beginning of the school year.

Nationwide, the workforce changes are particularly evident among women. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report in September showed that four times more women than men dropped out of the labor force that month.

The annual “Women in the Workplace” report, published Sept. 30 by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, found that “due to challenges created by the Covid-19 crisis, as many as two million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving the workforce altogether.” The report surveyed 40,000 employees from 47 companies. It found that for many woman considering leaving the workforce, concerns about housework and caregiving burdens due to COVID-19 were a contributing factor.

“Mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving. In fact, they’re 1.5 times more likely than fathers to be spending an extra three or more hours a day on housework and childcare — equivalent to 20 hours a week, or half a full-time job,” the report said.

Jeannette said she didn’t realize how hard she and her husband were working until she considered one of them leaving their jobs. The stress was putting a burden on their children and their marriage, with Jeannette returning home from work around the same time Brad would leave for his job.

Jeannette knew it wouldn’t be practical for both of them to keep their full-time jobs once school resumed in the fall given the uncertainty with in-person classes. With two children ages 4 and 6, child care programs were limited, and the school district was constantly sending new information to parents, she said. Taking care of their children in this environment would be a full-time job on its own.

Jeannette and Brad talked through the pros and cons of each of them leaving their jobs. When Brad received a raise, she said that sealed their decision. While Jeannette no longer works full time, she still does freelance reporting.

The difference between the fall and spring semesters was obvious for Jeannette’s family. When schools closed in the spring, she said she had trouble keeping track of what her children were doing. She was constantly exhausted and wasn’t taking care of herself. Now, she said she can provide the stability her children need to progress in school without worrying about the added commitment of a full-time job.

“The more I go through this, the more it’s the right decision,” she said.

After leaving her job, Jeannette said she received some judgment from her community about her decision. She said people have congratulated her on her retirement, even though she isn’t retired, and referred to the days she spends helping her children as a “day off.” Jeannette said these comments are likely linked to her gender, as she doesn’t believe Brad would receive the same comments if he had left his job.

“I think he would get a pat on the back everywhere he went,” she said.

HEATH FRISBY

Heath Frisby is a father of three children ages 2, 3 and 5, and has switched jobs multiple times since the pandemic began. His wife, Linnae Frisby, works part-time as a nurse in West Valley Medical Center’s ICU in Caldwell while also attending graduate school to become a nurse practitioner. While Heath is on a break from work at his job as a general contractor, he said he spends most of his time with their children.

Before the pandemic, Heath worked as a general contractor building and selling homes. In March when the pandemic hit Idaho, Heath said he left his job and started working as a welder for a mining company, fearing that the real estate market would drop. He worked for the mining company for a few months until the company went out of business, leading him to return to his work as a general contractor.

Health is currently building a house in McCall, but the construction is on hold through the colder months and is set to resume around May, he said. Until then, Heath takes care of their children.

Only the Frisbys’ oldest daughter, Norah, is old enough to attend school. Living in the rural Sand Hollow area north of Caldwell, she goes to school in-person four days a week — a recent increase from just two days a week earlier in the school year. Each school day Heath drops Norah off and picks her up from school, makes sure his two younger children get their naps and cooks the meals for everyone.

Heath said his life would be even more hectic if they had more children attending school, or if Norah’s classes were held remotely. But he said he doesn’t think either he or Linnae would consider leaving their jobs. They both have things they want to accomplish outside of their jobs as parents, and both of them having jobs is better financially for their family.

“We still have bills to pay, just like everybody else,” he said.

MELANIE MOULTON

Melanie Moulton worked as a music teacher for two elementary schools in Teton Valley when the pandemic hit Idaho. Within a few weeks, she quit both jobs to focus on helping her three children still living at home.

Moulton has five children, with two in college. She has one child in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school. She said it was a lot of work getting her children through the final months of the school year this spring as Idaho adjusted to the pandemic. She would spend the first half of her days entirely focused on helping her youngest son, who was finishing first grade, then check in on her older children, who were both in middle school at the time.

Leading up to the fall, Moulton said she wanted to return to work, but she was also rethinking her career path. She considered the challenges she would face teaching music during a pandemic.

“I knew this would be a difficult year to be a music teacher,” Moulton said.

Moulton decided to return to teaching at one of her old elementary schools for one day a week instead of her previous schedule of three days a week. She teaches a smaller group of students in a socially distanced environment. She said it is frustrating not being able to do some of the things her classes did last year, such as singing together in a smaller space, but she still is confident her students are getting a good education.

While Moulton teaches part time, she is also attending a master’s program to get her teaching license. She said she eventually wants to work as a full-time elementary teacher, and she’s using the pandemic as an opportunity to move toward her goal.

Megan Dibb, a Boise-based strategic partnership manager for the online college Western Governors University, said the pandemic has spurred many working adults to seek out a higher education. Many of these workers are parents, who are not only juggling their jobs, but also homeschooling their children and providing the other aspects of childcare, Dibb said.

“All of these things individually are a full-time job,” Dibb said.


News
Boys and Girls Club cuts ribbon on 4th Street Gym

Wendy Johnson

Kuna School District Superintendent

Kuna’s 4th Street Gym has hosted a wide variety of events, organizations and meetups in its 73-year history, and now, it has a new occupant — the Kuna Boys and Girls Club.

The club just celebrated its partnership with the Kuna School District, the building’s owner, at a ribbon cutting last week, but the club has already been taking care of kids at the new location for about a month, Ada County Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Colleen Braga told Kuna Melba News.

The move offers more space for tutoring, serving meals and activities than the club’s last host, nearby Ross Elementary, where it used two classrooms to offer 150 students after-school programs last year, Braga said. That’s a noticeable size upgrade; Kuna School District custodial supervisor Ben Gleaton pegged the gym at around 5,600 square feet.

Two years ago, the Boys and Girls Club hoped to build a new home for its Kuna members with the support of then-Kuna Police Chief Jon McDaniel, who advocated for expanded programs’ ability to keep area youth out of legal trouble, Kuna Melba News reported. But the pandemic compounded preexisting challenges that families faced then as schools closed down and as some parents scrambled to find affordable child care while swallowing furloughs and slashed hours.

Kuna School District Superintendent Wendy Johnson said “the shutdown was really scary for all of us” as “educators were worried about the social and emotional health of their children.”

“We certainly would not have been able to open schools at all had we not had the Boys and Girls Club to lean on as a partner for our staff and for our community,” she said. “While other communities are in chaos, Kuna continues to … work together and solve our problems.”

After the Kuna School District reopened in a hybrid model this fall, the Boys and Girls Club was called on to provide more all-day care with students sometimes learning remotely. Under those circumstances, the club has taken on fewer members, 89, in part because the expanded program takes resources and in part because more parents work remotely and can watch their kids, Braga said.

Early in the pandemic, though, it was unclear whether the club would remain open as coronavirus cases surged.

“We could take the road that many took, and that was to shut our doors and wait out the storm, or we could remain open as a safe haven for kids and when families needed us to be there,” Braga recalled. ”We thought the bigger risk to Kuna kids, to all kids that we serve, is if we shut our doors.”

After moving into the 4th Street Gym, those doors got bigger than they ever have been.

The Boys and Girls Club of Ada County first expanded to Kuna 13 years ago, but even when it moved to its last location at Ross Elementary in 2016, it never had a dedicated home in the city. Meanwhile, the 4th Street Gym was deep into a history hosting “a plethora of events including; (but not limited to) pinewood derby races, boxing competitions, dances, school music programs, basketball games, lacrosse practices, and community rummage sales,” Gleaton said in an email.

The gym also hosted charter school Project Impact STEM Academy upon its founding, and most recently, Friendship Celebration Lutheran Church, which has since moved services to Kuna High School, according to Gleaton.

“I hope that this facility and its history is happy again,” Johnson told the crowd at the ribbon cutting, which included new Kuna Police Chief Mike Fratusco and local state legislators Sen. Lori Den Hartog and Rep. John Vander Woude. “It’s history is, it should be filled with kids, and it is again.”


Elections
Officials: Early Idaho voting compensates for fewer polls

BOISE (AP) — The number of voting locations across Idaho for Tuesday’s election is down about 15% from usual due to the coronavirus, but a huge surge in early voting has more than compensated, state election officials said Monday.

Nearly 500,000 of the state’s 1 million registered voters had already cast a ballot as of early Monday, either by early voting or absentee ballots, which were still arriving, the secretary of state’s office said.

In previous elections, early and absentee voting ranged from about 15% to 20%, officials said. Some 300,000 people are expected to cast ballots Tuesday.

Some voting locations have closed or moved to allow for social distancing. Highly populated Canyon County in southwestern Idaho has cut the number of voting locations from 64 to 21. However, officials there also increased early voting locations from one to five. Ada County has also cut polling places.

Several counties, including Ada and Canyon, are taking advantage of a law passed during the special legislative session last summer and signed by Republican Gov. Brad Little allowing the opening and scanning of ballots beginning seven days before Election Day. Lawmakers anticipated a big increase in early voting.

Chad Houck, chief deputy at the secretary of state’s office, said only counties with the budgets to pay for the scanning machines as well as security measures, which include streaming video of the ballot handling, are using the scanning machines.

The 2016 general elections saw 710,000 ballots cast in the state, representing a turnout of 75% of registered voters. If 300,000 voters show up Tuesday at the polls, that would represent an overall turnout of about 80%.