ALEX COHEN, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen. We begin today with a startling statistic. Even though women fill approximately half of the nation's jobs, men account for 80 percent of recent layoffs. As more men lose their jobs, more women are becoming the breadwinners of the household. To get a better sense of how the economy is affecting gender roles at work and at home, we called Chris Owens. She is executive director of the National Employment Law Project.
Chris told me to understand why so many men had been laid off, all you need to do is look at which industries are cutting back.
Ms. CHRISTINE OWENS (Executive Director, National Employment Law Project): For example, of the three and a half million jobs that we've lost over the last year, roughly 50 percent of those jobs have been either in construction or in manufacturing. And these are heavily male-dominated industries. And then the other factor is that the one area where there's been some growth is education and health care services, and that's an area where women tend to outnumber men.
So we have a little bit of growth in sectors where women dominate and a lot of job loss in the sectors where men are predominant.
COHEN: And, Chris, let's talk a little bit about those jobs. Are women working in occupations that have the same kind of hours and benefits as the jobs that men fill?
Ms. OWENS: Well, not necessarily. You know, women still earn, on average, just 78 percent each year what men earn. But women tend to be more likely to be in jobs that have somewhat lower pay and are less likely to have good employer provided benefits. And a lot of the jobs that men have been losing are actually good union jobs that had high wages and good employer provided benefits.
COHEN: And so, it seems that then these women might need to work longer hours, that it might really take a toll on a family if it's the man who loses the job.
Ms. OWENS: Well, I think that's absolutely the case, and there has been some increase in multiple job holding people adding a second part-time job or at least adding a few more hours. And that kind of increase often happens more with women than with men.
COHEN: So given what we're seeing now, what do you think this will mean long-term for women in the workforce?
Ms. OWENS: Once the recovery begins, we'll see some evening out again in terms of job growth in various sectors. But I think there's still a huge job ahead for society of overall to begin to value the jobs that women are doing and pay them more on a par with what men are earn, and to treat the issue of employee benefits equally across all sectors.
COHEN: Chris, you mentioned that the industries growing right now are ones that tend to be dominated by women. I'm wondering if you think perhaps more men might start getting into things such as education and health care given what the economic outlook is right now.
COHEN: Well, I think that is almost invariably going to be true given not just the immediate economic outlook, but as we look forward and look at job growth over the next 10 years or so. These are the jobs of the future, and so men will be moving into those jobs, and that may well have the effect of helping to drive up wages in those areas as well.
COHEN: Chris Owens is the executive director of the National Employment Law Project. Thank you.
Ms. OWENS: Thank you.
COHEN: And now, we meet a woman who has become the sole earner of the household when she laid off her husband. Robbie Raffish Tarpley owns ASAPR, that's a public relations firm in Sharptown, Maryland. Her husband, Clay Tarpley, has worked there with her for the past seven years. Recently, one of their biggest clients hasn't been able to make payments, so Clay told me he knew what had to be done.
Ms. CLAY TARPLEY: I am not very ego-driven. I'm a team player, and in this, our team is tied to our family. So you know, it made more sense for me to be laid off until business came back around or I decided to, you know, either freelance doing event planning and meeting management and things like that or went to work for somebody else in case something didn't happen.
COHEN: And because this is a business that Robbie owns and that she's self-employed, if you got laid off, you could go on unemployment. Is that right?
Mr. TARPLEY: Yes.
Ms. ROBBIE RAFFISH (Owner, ASAPR): And I was in the position of having already laid one person off who was contractual to a piece of business who also the business ended, and we couldn't hold on to that person.
COHEN: So how did this happen, Robbie? What was that final conversation like when you decided, OK, I'm going to need to lay off my husband?
Ms. RAFFISH: It's a very strange situation to be in, but I will say when Clay says he has no ego, he - in this respect, isn't kidding. He, you know, came to work for his wife knowing that it was always going to be my business, happy to do so. It just kind of became self-evident that this was the way we were going to survive this in.
COHEN: So was there an actual sit down chat, Clay? Where Robbie said I hate to have to do this but...
Mr. TARPLEY: No, this was an on-going conversation, you know...
Ms. RAFFISH: So we did have that conversation in the car, though.
Mr. TARPLEY: We did. We did have an official conversation, but it wasn't a surprise. It was like - it was almost like pulling the trigger on a project. We knew it was coming with the possibility thereof, and, you know, we just made it official, I think, on the way to the grocery store one day.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RAFFISH: Clay has really, really strong talents, I believe, I know that are under utilized here, and we have been already speaking for more than a year about maybe he would go back to school and then start to look for what his next thing is going to be. Anyway, we're both in our 40s, and it's kind of, you know, it's trendy right now. You go find out what your next thing is going to be when you've done something a long time.
COHEN: Robbie, you are now in the position of being the main breadwinner, and I think, you know, on the one hand, we talk about women wanting equal pay, but I wonder if there's any challenges or difficulties being the breadwinner of the family.
Ms. RAFFISH: I don't have challenges I don't think being the breadwinner. I think my challenge is not having guilt over Clay being home, and today waiting for the Sears repair guy, or picking up one of our kids from school if I'm not contributing equally on that same front. I mean, for seven years, Clay has contributed equally in this business. And now, he's much more responsible for what's going on at home by the nature of the fact that I'm trying to go out and win business.
So whether he comes back here or whether he moves on to another job or he opens a freelance practice, his opportunities are in front of him, but my guilt is here now. (Laughing)
COHEN: But you're the one earning income for your family.
Ms. RAFFISH: Yeah, isn't it crazy?
COHEN: But you still feel guilty?
Ms. RAFFISH: I do a little bit. I feel it's hard to say goodbye in the morning to him sometimes, because I feel like I'm going out to work with a capital W, and he's not. And that's a challenge for me, emotionally.
COHEN: And Clay, what about you? How does all this feel for you?
Mr. TARPLEY: I think a little differently. The phrase taking one for the team isn't exactly the right one here, but, I mean, this is Robbie's business, although I've been a major part of it. I mean, it was the right strategic decision for us.
Ms. RAFFISH: We talked about being a team, and we really are, philosophically. I mean, we have always combined our names and refer to ourselves, as a family, as Team Tarpfish. Our kids have a real perspective on the fact that we are a unit. So Clay did take one for the team. He took one that allowed us to continue to have one income, and he's going to go out and figure out what his next steps are, but it's still, I think, hard, emotionally, to say, you know, goodbye to that phase of our life.
Mr. TARPLEY: Well, it's a good thing that I'm a good cook also, so...
Ms. RAFFISH: He is a very good cook, far better than me.
COHEN: Robbie Tarpley Raffish and Clay Tarpley spoke to us from Sharptown, Maryland. Thank you both.
Mr. TARPLEY: Thank you.
Ms. RAFFISH: Thank you.
COHEN: Dads at home cooking and caring for the kids while mom earns the income. It's a scenario Amy Keroes is seeing a lot of lately. Amy's a mother of two in Mill Valley, California. She's also the founder of the Web site Mommytrackd.com. That's where more than 50,000 moms discuss all aspects of parenthood.
Amy told me there's always been a lively discussion at mommytrackd about the choice each mother faces, to stay at home with her kids or go out into the working world. But recently, she says, the tone has changed.
Ms. AMY KEROES (Founder, www.mommytrackd.com): What I've noticed over the course of the last four or five months is a tremendous increase in the number of moms who left work in stronger economic times now looking to come back to full or part-time work, not because they want to, not because their kids have started kindergarten and they're ready, but because they need to for financial reasons.
COHEN: So what's that experience like when they're kind of forced back in to working?
Ms. KEROES: I think it's challenging. I think it's always been challenging for moms who are reentering the work force, both in terms of figuring out what to fill that gap in your resume with, struggling with lack of confidence issues, feeling as though you've been out of practice for too long. And now, I think there's a layered element on top of that, and that layer is intense competition because there are so many people flooding the application pool because they've lost their jobs. So I think, again, what we've seen on Mommytrackd.com is a lot of women very eager to utilize any networking opportunities they see.
COHEN: Is there anything about being a mom that actually leads to networking opportunities when it comes to finding a new job?
Ms. KEROES: Well, I think certainly being a mom can help one perform at one's job because of efficiencies and multi-tasking skills (Laughing). But I also think there are communities of moms that are powerful networking tools. There are resources that are focused specifically on helping moms return to work. And I think they're powerful tools.
COHEN: It seems like it wasn't too long ago that you'd be hearing from moms that they were really struggling with this struggle between, well I really want to stay home with my kids, but I also really feel strongly about having a career and working. Is there any way in which this almost comes as a relief to some moms because the choice is made for them? They have to work.
Ms. KEROES: I was just going to say that. I think the last statistic I read before the economic downturn was that over 70 percent of all women in this country with children under the age of 18 work in some capacity outside the home. So for those few who have had the luxury of that struggle, I think you're exactly right. I think it is a laborious struggle that can torture you. One bright side of an economic downturn that inspires you to have to return to work, maybe pulling you out of that personal torture of whether or not to return.
COHEN: Amy, I was just taking a look at your Web site, and one of the headlines that caught my eye was about working moms, that they're in need of a little more of something lately. Do you know which piece I'm talking about there?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. KEROES: Yes, I am quite aware. There was a recent survey that Working Mother Magazine came out with that our readers have been startled by because its finding was that working moms, very busy, overextended, stressed out working moms need more sex. (Laughing) Is that what you're talking about?
COHEN: That is indeed. What's been the response?
Ms. KEROES: The response has been a little bit of shock. I - We've gotten a lot of feedback that comes in the form of, seriously?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. KEROES: But I think it gives everybody a little bit of pause and makes everybody think, hmm, maybe there's something that I'm missing. Maybe I should focus on this again. Maybe it could bring a little bit of joy to my otherwise very chaotic life. (Laughing)
COHEN: Amy Keroes is the founder of mommytrackd.com. Thanks, Amy.
Ms. KEROES: Thank you so much.
COHEN: And if you want to weigh in about women in the work force, go to our blog. It's npr.org/daydream.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.