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Tight Economy Forces Some Couples To Live Apart

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Tight Economy Forces Some Couples To Live Apart


Tight Economy Forces Some Couples To Live Apart

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now to a change in family life brought about by the recession. Many people have lost jobs or are making less money, and it's not easy to find better prospects close to home. In some families, husbands or wives have to look for jobs in other states.

Minnesota Public Radio's Annie Baxter has this story on commuter marriages.

ANNIE BAXTER: The bad economy is creating all sorts of reluctant bachelors, at least temporarily. Mike and John Finley are among them. The father and son are sharing a meal in their big Victorian house here in St. Paul.

Mr. MIKE FINLEY: I made some chicken legs.

Mr. J. FINLEY: We've been purchasing more of these lately.

Mr. M. FINLEY: Yes, it's (unintelligible).

BAXTER: Mike Finley is used to cooking for the family, but he's not used to his wife, Rachel Frazin, being somewhere else at dinnertime. Rachel 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 home about as long. Rachel initially took the job for extra cash. She earns a third more money in Alaska than at home.

But then, in January, Mike lost his job writing for a physicians' association, and 21-year-old Jon, the youngest of their two kids, can't find work. So now, Rachel's commuting job is crucial, but Mike really misses his wife of 35 years.

Mr. M. FINLEY: When we are together now, I have noticed, and a little wistfully, that we know that we are going to be splitting up again soon. And so it takes away some of the security, or the reliability, of the company that we keep.

Ms. RACHEL FRAZIN: I think, for me, it's easier than it is for my husband.

BAXTER: Rachel Frazin 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 Mike lost his job. His e-mail arrived at the worst possible time.

Ms. FRAZIN: 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.

BAXTER: Those stresses aside, Rachel plans to work in Alaska as long as possible. Mike is also applying for temporary work in other states. There is no easy way of knowing how many people are in situations similar to Mike and Rachel's: living apart temporarily for jobs.

But Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University, thinks 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.

Professor MICHAEL HICKS (Economist, Ball State University): There is just not one place where, say, a couple with two different occupations could easily relocate and both find jobs.

BAXTER: Michael 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.

Prof. HICKS: Those factors together almost certainly mean that you're seeing more of this.

BAXTER: 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 longtime partner, Monica, and her two teenage kids.

Mr. MICHAEL CUSTARD: This is a promise of full-time work, and I absolutely had to take it.

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

Ms. MONICA BIERMA: I said that he should take advantage of a chance to live in a great town, to do work that he likes to do, and that we would be fine.

BAXTER: Michael 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.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Baxter in St. Paul.

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