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Published: Monday, 4/6/2009

Downturn gives rise to breadwinner wives

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Paul and Terry Bacon have a marriage reframed by recession.

He's 48, laid off from Hewlett-Packard after 11 years, suddenly chief cook and bottle washer. She's 53, manager of a medical clinic, working 35 hours a week, suddenly Ms. Breadwinner.

Said Mr. Bacon, "I was making $120,000. We're now relying on my wife's $3,000 a month, and we're barely able to pay our mortgage. My wife's stressed and tired, so I try and have a good dinner waiting when she gets home."

As the recession grinds on, men are being laid off at a far greater clip than women, spawning a historic American emigration out of the cubicle and into the kitchen.

According to government statistics, more than 80 percent of layoff notices handed out since the recession began in December, 2007, have gone to men, thanks to their disproportionate numbers in hard-hit fields such as construction and manufacturing.

In November, women held more than 49 percent of jobs. And because many are with more stable employers such as schools and hospitals, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest women soon could outnumber men in the workplace for the first time in the nation's history.

"The whole structure of the American job is changing," said Jill Ater, co-founder of the national part-time job-placement service 10 til 2. "This trend could change the way we look at traditional gender roles. Women represent a supereducated but underutilized work force. Now many of these women are saying, 'He might not be able to get a job. But I can.'•"

Mark Mistor, 46, laid off last month as purchasing manager for a Hayward, Calif., tech firm, called his stay-at-home status "a mixed blessing."

"My job took a lot of time out of my life, so my kids have received their daddy back," he said. "I'm helping my son with driver's training, and helping him on the computer getting ready for college, so there's definitely a silver lining to all this."

Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, says the gender gap in layoffs during tough economic times is not new, but this time it's far more dramatic.

"Men losing more jobs than women has been the case in every recession since the early '80s, which was the first time we saw this massive structural switch away from manufacturing," Ms. Boushey said, pointing out that in December, the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent for men and 5.9 percent for women.

"The losses are much sharper now, and the gap between men and women's unemployment rates has never been as high" in the past quarter-century.

Both in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and anecdotally in her own life, Ms. Boushey says she is seeing "more and more American families where women are taking on the primary income role. The big question is: Are their husbands' lost jobs ever coming back?"



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