More Women Become Breadwinners as Male Unemployment Jumps

As the country heads into Mother's Day weekend, many families will be grateful to mothers for a new reason: they've managed to keep their jobs.

The government reported this morning that while the national unemployment rate jumped from 8.5 percent to 8.9 percent, employers shed fewer jobs last month than expected -- companies cut 539,000 jobs last month instead of the 620,000 analysts were projecting. The news provided a boost to Wall Street: The Dow Jones industrial average closed up some 165 points.

The April jobs report followed patterns established in previous months, showing that men continue to outpace women in job losses.

While the recession has taken a toll on both sexes, male-dominated industries such as construction and financial services have taken a greater hit than more female-driven professions in areas such as healthcare and education. Between April 2007 and last month, the unemployment rate for men age 16 and older more than doubled to 10 percent; among women, the unemployment rate also increased, but less dramatically -- from 4.4 percent to 7.6 percent.

For families with children, this new economic reality is bolstering an already-growing trend: wives taking on roles as primary breadwinners while husbands -- these days, often newly-unemployed husbands -- stay home to become primary caregivers.

"It wasn't what we originally planned, we can't really say for sure how long we want to do this, but it works for us," said Brie Hudgins, 31, an insurance adjuster in Mississippi.

Hudgin's husband, Jeremy, lost his job at a student loan company more than a year ago and now stays home with the couple's two daughters. Jeremy Hudgins says he relishes spending time with his children, but his new role hasn't come without hang-ups, including a hit to his ego and the disapproval of his parents.

"My parents don't really get what I'm doing," he said. "They think I should be out with a job -- I explained to them, it's not that easy to get a job right now."

While married stay-at-home mothers outnumber their male counterparts by more than 38 to 1, according to recent U.S. Census bureau statistics, the number of stay-at-home fathers has grown substantially: Some 140,000 married men acted as their family's primary caregivers last year, up from 98,000 in 2003.

Before the recession, job loss wasn't necessarily the key factor driving the increase in stay-at-home dads. Monique Derenia, who spent a year researching and filming California stay-at-home dads for her short documentary, "Why Not Dad?", said she found that many fathers volunteered to stay home.

"Most of them talked about the value in and of itself of being more involved than their fathers were," Derenia said. "When it became clear that they would have this opportunity, they jumped at the chance to be more involved with parenting."

Making Ends Meet

The men could afford to stay home with their children, Derenia said, because often their wives earned higher salaries than they did.

But today, wives who assume the roles of primary breadwinners in the face of a husband's job loss may not be as fortunate. According to most recent U.S. Census data, women on average make about 78 cents for each dollar earned by men.

For the Hudgins, it's a statistic that hits home: Her $30,000 salary is about a third lower than what her husband used to earn, she said.

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