Tight Economy Forces Some Couples To Live Apart

Mike Finley and his son Jon share a meal in their St. Paul, Minn., home. i i

Mike Finley and his son Jon share a meal in their St. Paul, Minn., home. Finley says he misses chatting with his wife Rachel Frazin over dinner. She took a job as a nurse practitioner in a remote part of Alaska. Annie Baxter for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Annie Baxter for NPR
Mike Finley and his son Jon share a meal in their St. Paul, Minn., home.

Mike Finley and his son Jon share a meal in their St. Paul, Minn., home. Finley says he misses chatting with his wife Rachel Frazin over dinner. She took a job as a nurse practitioner in a remote part of Alaska.

Annie Baxter for NPR

Many couples are struggling with job loss or lower wages, and it's not easy to find better prospects close to home. In some families, husbands and wives have to look for jobs in different states. That's pushing them into commuter marriages.

Mike Finley of St. Paul, Minn., is used to cooking for the family. But he's not used to his wife, Rachel Frazin, being somewhere else at dinnertime.

Frazin is a nurse practitioner, and last year, she took a job at the northernmost tip of Alaska. She's now gone four to six weeks at a time, then is home for about as long. Frazin initially took the job for extra cash — she earns a third more money in Alaska than at home.

But then in January, Finley lost his job writing for a physicians association. And 21-year-old Jon, the youngest of their two children, can't find work.

So now, Frazin's commuting job is crucial.

But Finley really misses his wife of 35 years.

"When we're together now, I have noticed, and a little wistfully, that we know that we're going to be splitting up again soon," he says. "And so it takes away some of the security or the reliability of the company that we keep."

Frazin says being apart seems easier for her than for her husband. She says she misses her family, but she loves her work in Alaska.

For her, the toughest part of being away from the family came when her husband lost his job. His e-mail arrived at the worst possible time.

"I had just gotten into this village, and I had somebody in a trauma room who was really ill, and three other people in exam rooms waiting for me to start seeing them," she says.

Those stresses aside, she plans to work in Alaska for as long as possible. Finley is also applying for temporary work in other states.

There's no easy way of knowing how many people are in similar situations — living apart temporarily for jobs.

But Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University, says this could be a new trend. He says the recession has hit across the board. So if one spouse finds a job somewhere away from home, it's less likely the other spouse would find work in the same city.

"At the individual level, there are probably lots of opportunities if you're willing to relocate," Hicks says. "There's just not one place where, say, a couple with two different occupations could easily relocate and both find jobs."

Hicks says the lousy housing market and the length of this recession also mean workers are probably desperate enough to take temporary jobs far from home.

"Those factors together mean almost certainly that you're seeing more of this," he says.

Michael Custard knows something about desperation. He lives in St. Paul, where he was unemployed for about half a year.

He recently took a six-month job in San Francisco as a tech consultant, leaving behind his long-time partner, Monica Bierma, and her two teenage kids.

"This is a promise of full-time work, and I absolutely had to take it from that perspective, because the savings only goes so far," Custard says.

As Bierma gets dinner ready, she says Custard's unemployment made her worry about money — and his state of mind. So she persuaded him to pursue the San Francisco gig.

"I said that he should take advantage of the chance to live in a great town, to do work that he likes to do, and that he would be fine," she says.

Custard says he is somewhat concerned about what will happen after six months away from his networking circles at home. He hopes he won't lose any connections — or return to an even tougher job scene than the one he's leaving behind.

Annie Baxter reports for Minnesota Public Radio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.