Stay-at-home moms find job-hunting a challenge
The Record (Hackensack N.J.) (MCT) - Many mothers who planned to stay home to raise children say the recession has pushed them to work _ or hunt for work _ much sooner than expected.
It's too early to find current data specifically on moms, but numbers on women from the Bureau of Labor Statistics back up anecdotal evidence of the trend. The percentage of women ages 24 to 44 who are in the labor force _ meaning they have jobs or want them _ has grown during the recession, to 75.7 percent last month, up from 75.3 percent in December 2007. Steve Hipple, an economist at the bureau, called that increase small but noteworthy.
"The recent rise in labor force participation among women of child-bearing age supports the notion of the 'added-worker effect,' which means women entering the labor force after the job loss of a husband," Hipple says. Meanwhile, men's jobs have been harder hit by the turmoil; they account for 78 percent of job losses due to their concentrations in ailing industries like construction and manufacturing.
Even in relatively affluent northern New Jersey, women are feeling extra pressure to bring home a paycheck. Consider Annette Simmons in Teaneck, N.J. She had hoped to stay home with nearly 3-year-old Charlie until he turned 5. Now she feels obligated to go back to work full time as a New York City public school teacher.
Simmons had tried earning extra cash by hosting a few Kindermusik classes per week but attendance dropped dramatically as families cut luxuries. Her husband, a self-employed criminal defense lawyer, is urging her to find a job with benefits because the couple pays $1,300 per month for health insurance. Nevertheless, they both worry about putting Charlie in day care for 10 hours a shift. Simmons feels "horribly conflicted" but is sending out resumes.
"I really love being with Charlie," she said. "I want to watch him grow.''
Mothers who need to head back to work repeatedly stress they don't want to sound whiny but that this change of plans can be intensely emotional. Indeed, in January, two Livingston, N.J., moms launched a social networking site, MyWorkButterfly.com, to support mothers trying to reenter the workforce and adjust to its demands. One of the site's founders, Bradi Nathan, said women were so overwhelmed by the prospect of going back to work that the site added a psychotherapist and career coach that members can contact online.
To be sure, some mothers say they feel very lucky they had the luxury of staying home while it lasted. Most moms don't. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2007, 60 percent of married women with children younger than 6 were employed.
When her husband got laid off last June without severance pay, Lainie Gilbert, 43, was forced back to work for the first time since having children. She felt her past job as a geriatric counselor was too draining to handle on top of three children ages 6, 11 and 13, so she applied to Starbucks and Bloomingdales but was overqualified. Then she decided to make use of her skills as a "gym rat" and got certified as a personal trainer. Now she works 40 hours a week in a Little Falls, N.J., studio. She loves it.
"The juggle is very hard but the reward is getting out of the house and doing something productive," she said. "I could not have anticipated how wonderful it would be."
Some entrepreneurial moms hope starting their own businesses will give them the freedom they crave. Stephanie Huang of Woodcliff Lake, whose youngest child is a toddler, is trying to make money through nutrition counseling. Even though her husband is a surgeon, she feels they need a "financial Plan B" due to the recent drop in the value of their house and retirement savings.
"The children are very needy," she said, "but if I were to stay home and watch the recession take its full force, I would feel hopeless and ineffective."
Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, cites one sobering statistic on the challenge of finding jobs: In December 2008, 1.3 million women who were actively searching for work had told surveyors just a month earlier that they weren't working, didn't want work or weren't available for it. That group of new job-seekers was 18 percent bigger than in December 2007.
"That means we're seeing an increase in women entering or reentering the labor force but not finding work," she said.
Tracey Austin, director of Flexible Resources, a Little Falls employment agency, agrees it's a very difficult time for moms who stepped away from careers to compete. "There's a pool of people out there and employers are looking for experience," she said.
That's one reason Patricia Letwink, who used to work in a technology role at a Franklin Lakes, N.J., prescription benefit management company, wants to jump back in. Her kids are almost 3 and 5. At first she had hoped to wait until the youngest hit kindergarten, but now she's afraid of leaving too long a gap in her resume. She knows she'll be vying with people who have fresher skills.
"With the economy taking a downturn, I think it behooves me to get back into the workforce sooner than later," she said. "The kids are more self-sufficient now and I'm ready. It's a perfect storm.''
© 2009, North Jersey Media Group Inc.
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