March 6, 2009
Mr. Mom makes a comeback as layoffs hit hard in male-dominated job fields
San Jose Mercury News
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Meet Paul and Terry Bacon — a portrait of 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.
Paul: "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. I guess that's what a good wife would do. I guess I'd make a good wife."
Terry: "Women are still underpaid, and I don't have the education Paul has, so there's no way I'll ever bring in his income. So I'm suddenly feeling a lot of pressure."
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.
The numbers are startling: Since the recession began in December 2007, more than 80 percent of those laid off have been men, thanks to their disproportionate slice of jobs in hard-hit fields such as construction and manufacturing, according to government data.
In November, women held more than 49 percent of jobs in the country. And since many are with more stable employers such as schools and hospitals, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests 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 super-educated but underutilized work force. Now many of these women are saying, 'He might not be able to get a job. But I can.' "
In Silicon Valley, where the global downturn fuels a weekly exodus from startup sites and office parks, home life for many couples is undergoing its own seismic shift — with Mommy Breadwinner, Daddy Day Care and life as they knew it now flipped upside down. Even as they hunt for a new job, trying to get by on what is often a spouse's more meager pay, men are learning to simultaneously polish résumés, change diapers, set up interviews and teach teenagers to drive.
"I'm beginning to feel like Mr. Mom," said Mark Mistor, 46, laid off in January as purchasing manager for a Hayward, Calif., tech firm. "I pick up my daughter from kindergarten at noon. But if I'm out interviewing or have résumés to submit, I'll drop her off at day care — a 6-year-old needs a lot of attention."
Mistor, like other laid-off men interviewed for this story, says his stay-at-home status "is a mixed blessing. My job took a lot of time out of my life, so my kids have received their daddy back. 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."
Gender gap sharper
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," said Boushey, 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 federal labor statistics and anecdotally in her own life, 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?"
If families are forced even temporarily to live on the wife's paycheck, which government statistics put at 80 cents for each dollar a male co-worker earns, the American home could be getting a testosterone-fueled makeover, from the way finances and chores are managed to the way kids are raised.
New way of life
If this recession drags on, there could well be more men like Greg Hobbs, a Sunnyvale, Calif., software-development manager laid off in 2001 from Nortel. After three years of looking for a new job, Hobbs and his wife, who works at IBM, decided to flip things around at home.
"With both of us working and three kids at home, we realized there was a void in our family by not having a parent at home, helping get them involved in extracurricular activities," says Hobbs, now 51. "It was obvious there was a need there, so we decided that I'd fill it and become a stay-at-home dad."
Today, with a 12- and a 17-year-old still at home, he misses the workplace at times. But he says he has no regrets.
"I was laid off when my son was 5, so to him his dad has always been home," Hobbs says. "And he's never really asked me 'Why don't you work?' because he has other friends who have similar arrangements at home."
Having a good income from IBM certainly helps. But the Hobbses seem to have found a balance that eludes many dual-income couples.
"My wife helps him with his math," he says, "and I help with science. I think we're all used to it now. It's just become our way of life."
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