News reports throughout the nation and the world are making note of a surprising trend in the American workforce. As economic difficulties deepen, it seems as though men are suffering the brunt of the layoffs, and if this trend continues, we could soon reach a historic tipping point, in which the number of women in the American workforce is greater than that of the men. This shift in balance has the potential to have a significant effect on family finances.

Our current economic climate is raining stress of all sorts on families today. Families throughout the nation who just a few years ago felt fairly financially secure suddenly find themselves fighting to stop foreclosure.  Many parents now labor under the cloud of record-breaking consumer debt, struggling against a rising cost of living while eyeing the specter of increasing rates of unemployment and the wave of layoffs seeping through the nation’s industries.

In an article published on February 5, 2009, the New York Times noted that in the current wave of layoffs, “a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction.” While these do tend to be male dominated fields, they also tend to be higher paying than the jobs found in fields in which women make up the majority of those employed.

In November of 2008, according to data cited in a February 7, 2009, article in the St. Petersburg Times, “women made up 49.1 percent of the work force.” The article points out that it isn’t really the number of women in the work force that is changing, that number has been fairly steady for quite some time now, with small fluctuations here and there. If the balance does tip into more women than men in the workplace, then it will most likely be due to more men losing their jobs.

For families accustomed to operating their finances based upon two incomes, having to rely on the woman’s income can be a drastic change. That is because, typically, the woman’s income is significantly less than the man’s, and unfortunately, that can still often be the case even when the two are working in comparable fields or careers. Women continue to earn less for the same work in many instances.

However, single income families can make it. After all, although it wasn’t as much the norm as nostalgia would have us believe – mothers in poor families have always worked to increase the family income – it was fairly common to have one parent at home with the children. There may need to be a significant amount of fat cut from the budget and some priorities may have to be reordered, but it often can be done.

Debt is often the make or break issue for a family trying to make it on a single income. With the bursting of the housing bubble, not only do many families find themselves in the awkward position of having a monthly mortgage that may be somewhat more than they are comfortable with, due to the loosening of lending standards that resulted in the sub-prime fiasco, but they may also find that they are upside-down on their mortgages, owing more than the home is worth at current market values.

Credit card debt, often high interest, are another serious debt hurdle for families that can stand in the way of being able to manage with one income. During 2008, according to data released by CardTrak.com, revolving consumer debt, of which most is credit card debt, reached record heights, well over $975 billion. Personal loans, home equity loans, and auto loans add to the debt burden that the average family is struggling beneath during this economic downturn.

In light of current economic trends, dealing with debt as soon as possible is probably one of the best things that can be done to help protect family finances. That way, if a layoff does come to one of the income earners of the family, there is more fiscal freedom of movement. Lenders of all sorts fear default in the current fiscal climate and are often much more willing to negotiate than they may have been in the past.

Laying in a good supply of non-perishable foods and basic household items can also be a hedge against the potential for job loss. Gardening is becoming popular again, as a reasonably well tended garden can significantly reduce grocery bills. The trends are alarming, particularly as well-paying jobs fall to the wayside, dragging average salaries downwards. Preparation can protect families.

It is unfortunate that the result of gender equality, in terms of numbers, in the workforce, as has been noted by numerous analysts, may be a downward pressure on wages for all, rather than in women finally earning as much as men in comparable jobs as a matter of course. However, trend-watchers have the opportunity to prepare and not be caught by surprise in these increasingly difficult economic times, made more difficult for many as remnants of economic disparity between the sexes still linger on.

  

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