By Tara Molina

CHICAGO (CBS) — Choosing between a job and family is a decision the COVID-19 pandemic forced many working moms to make. With two out of five jobs lost to COVID-19 yet to return, women lost an entire generation of job gains.

CBS 2’s Tara Molina is Working for Chicago, digging into what that looks like in the Chicago area and the local organization focused on solving it.

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Jennifer Allande says moments like a quick afternoon break in the city, hand-in-hand with her children, are even sweeter after the last year and a half — the balancing act of all balancing acts for the working mom.

“Being a mom isn’t taboo,” she said. “A lot of us when we first started applying for jobs, we never mentioned. We never mentioned our family. We never mentioned anything because we had that fear.”

That fear is replaced by confidence now.

“Moms are just as hard of workers,” she said.

But it was not easy. Allande works in human resources and found herself asking this question again and again throughout the pandemic.

She was not alone. Between February and April 2020, women lost 12.1 million jobs, a loss that reversed an entire decade of job gains, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Forced to choose between work and family with children learning from home, childcare expenses became a deciding factor, especially for women of color, with unemployment rates for both Black woman and Latinas spiking in 2020.

“There are real concerns here that the pandemic is setting women back,” said Susan Lambert, a professor with the University of Chicago. “My research focuses on working class jobs and folks. And you know what? Poor women have always worked, and they’re going to continue to be working. But under what conditions are they going to be able to participate in the labor market?”

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Enter The Mom Project. Founded in Chicago in 2016, it is a digital career community started by a working mom with one statistic in mind: An estimated 43% of highly skilled women leave the workforce after becoming mothers.

“Our founder really understood what it meant and what moms needed, and she created a platform for moms to be seen, to be heard, and to still feel valuable,” said Chandra Sanders.

The Mom Project has ramped up its efforts during to pandemic. With scholarships and free training opportunities and programs, they are helping moms who lost their jobs or were forced to leave their jobs or, like in Allande’s case, need flexible work options.

They have helped her with the training and confidence to transition into a new job in the middle of the pandemic — a job that allows her to work from home full time.

“A lot of moms don’t have the means. They don’t have extra spending money to take extras classes,” she said. “I watched a lot of their trainings and it gave me the confidence to switch roles, especially during the pandemic. Now I have a job where I can be flexible, and I can do it all and if anything I’m going a lot more and working a lot harder than when I was in the office with another company.”

So to the moms also asking themselves what to do now, her message is, “They can do it all.”

CBS 2 is committed to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

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We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

Tara Molina