Role Reversal: As recession lengthens, more men are laid off and become Mr. Moms

March 6, 2009 

Brian Fletcher has gone from the daily handling of motorcycle engines, brakes, clutches and gaskets to dealing daily with baby diapers, pacifiers, rattles and a stroller.

The 29-year-old Turlock resident was laid off from his job as parts manager at DH Cycles in December after working at the Modesto motorcycle shop for seven years.

Fletcher and his wife, Holly, had their first child, Hannah, in October. Now, Holly, who works full time in purchasing for the Wine Group, is the family's sole provider.

Fletcher's switch from big bikes to tiny babies comes courtesy of the economy, a trend seen across the country as the jobless rate continues to climb and men find themselves unemployed at a higher rate than women.

Many couples in the Central Valley — where in Stanislaus County, unemployment reached a 12-year high of 16 percent in January — are seeing a shift in their family dynamics because of the deepening recession.

Nationally, since the recession started at the end of 2007, more than 80 percent of laid-off workers have been men. The disproportionate numbers can be attributed to heavy hits in traditionally male-skewing industries like construction and manufacturing and relative stability in more female-centric fields like schools and hospitals.

In November, women held more than 49 percent of jobs, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics thinks women soon could outnumber men in the workplace for the first time in the nation's history.

What that means for workplaces is one thing, but what that means in living rooms is another.

For families like the Fletchers, it has meant adjustments and reprioritizations.

Fletcher said this is the first time since he was 16 years old that he has been unemployed. Initially, he applied for several jobs a week; he figures he sent out his résumé 50 to 60 times. But after receiving little to no response, he stopped applying at the same clip.

"Most of the time, you never hear anything back. I got a couple of phone calls from not the actual company but recruiters," he said. "But now, because of Hannah, I am probably less worried about it than I should be. She kind of takes up my days."

Dad running the household

Since losing his job, Fletcher has stayed home with his daughter, now nearly 5 months old, and taken over many domestic duties, like vacuuming and laundry.

After crunching the numbers, the Fletchers decided it wouldn't be cost-effective for Brian Fletcher to take a lower-paying full-time or part-time job. They save about $1,300 a month on child care and are getting help from family to make their mortgage payments.

Other former two-income families like the Fletchers have taken advantage of similar savings. And fathers who ordinarily would work full time are finding new rewards in a different set of responsibilities.

Modesto resident Justin Finch lost his job Dec. 31. Since then, he has applied for other work while taking care of his two daughters, ages 8 and 6. His wife, Gwynn, supports the family on her salary as a leasing consultant for a real estate agent. Justin Finch's severance pay and the couple's income-tax refund have their rent payments covered until June.

"I want to make (my wife) as happy as possible," said Finch, 31. "I don't want her to worry about making dinner or doing laundry or if the floor is clean. That's not her job anymore. And I actually enjoy doing that. I enjoy having dinner ready when she comes home, so she can relax. I want the kids' homework to be done."

Finch worked for three years as a salesman for Western Installation and said that despite the slowdown in construction, his pink slip came as a shock.

His wife returned to the work force in August after staying at home, taking care of the couple's children since they were born. She started working outside the home again once both daughters were in school.

The Finches have experienced downturns because of the economy before. In 2005, Finch was laid off from his job at a concrete business when work slowed. Back then, he was out of work for only 2½ months.

Now, going on his third month, Finch said the competition for jobs is more intense.

"Our market is flooded with 10 times more experienced people than it was a few years ago," he said. "Now, they're not looking at just three qualified candidates, they are looking at 15."

Opportunity to bond with children

Longtime union plumber Adrian Martinez was laid off from his position at Mercy Medical Center in Merced in January. Since then, the separated father of three has been home with his 13-year-old daughter, Julia, while waiting for work to open up.

A plumber for 23 years, the Hilmar resident has gone through slow times in the past. But he said the longest he was without employment before was about two months.

He has had to cut back; he and Julia are trying to waste less and save more on food and other basics.

Still, one of the unexpected benefits, he said, has been being with his daughter full time. "What is really going on between her and myself is that we are getting to know each other better," said Martinez, 42. "We're spending more quality time together. I think it's a blessing in disguise."

For the Fletchers, the change from a two-income family to a one-income family has put pressure on both partners.

Holly Fletcher, 29, said that while she has always worked (save for her maternity leave), she feels a different responsibility now.

"I feel a little bit more pressure to be able to be a single-income family right now," she said. "But I know in the long run, he'll be able to find a job. And right now, he has become a really great asset to have at home."

They're not alone

Brian Fletcher is working on starting a home business so he can continue to take care of Hannah during the tight job market. And the couple find comfort in the fact that they aren't the only family facing the same situation.

Close family friends Nick and Susie Jones have a 10-month-old son and Nick lost his job late last year.

Now, the two fathers get together regularly with their children for lunch and play dates.

"It's nice to have someone to hang out with," Fletcher said. "It's nice to be able to hang out with him and talk about stuff that somebody will actually understand."

Fletcher said while it had been hard for him not to have an office to go to every day, he is settling into his new role, however long it takes.

"At first, the biggest adjustment was not getting up and going to work. For the first month or so, when I realized that I didn't have to go somewhere, it was strange," he said. "But my mind is occupied all the time anyway. It's not like I'm sitting home not doing anything."

The San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or 578-2284.

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