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Juggling her job and her children’s education: One woman’s pandemic year

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GBH, March 2021

Guadalupe Montesinos has confronted a pandemic year full of impossible choices. Once schools shifted to remote learning, she had to leave her two kids, then 12 and 15, unsupervised in her apartment so she could go to her job caring for an elderly man in West Roxbury. When the daughter wouldn’t wake up for her remote classes, Montesinos brought her — toting her laptop — along on the job.

After her son stopped going to school altogether, Montesinos asked the juvenile court system to step in. “It’s been way too stressful,” Montesinos said in Spanish through an interpreter. “Sometimes I thought I was going to give up.”

For bus drivers, supermarket cashiers, personal care aides and other essential workers, the pandemic has unleashed a torrent of setbacks that have knocked families off their feet. While millions of low-wage workersalready living in poverty lost their jobs or had their hours cut as the virus spread, those who remain employed faced once-unimaginable hurdles keeping their children in school while keeping food on the table and trying to stay healthy. Half of households in the country earning below $35,000 a year reported falling behind on rent, and a quarter reported not having enough food, according to census data.

That vexing situation has been inflicted on domestic workers, a large but often invisible workforce of mostly Black and Hispanic women who left their own families in the pandemic to care for others. “The stakes are definitely higher for low income women,” said Alicia Sasser Modestino, a professor of public policy, urban affairs and economics at Northeastern University.

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