UnemploymentKelly, 51, a mother of five who lives in the Midwest, wants to get back into the workforce after a 20-year absence. Her family isn't in financial trouble -- not yet, anyway -- because she and her spouse have studiously avoided debt, even paying off their mortgage, and they have some cash-producing investments. But her husband is struggling to find a job.

Kelly (who asked that we not use her last name) faces an enormous challenge. Friday's employment report showed the economy failed to add jobs in August for the first time in a year. The official unemployment rate is 9.1% percent, but that rises to 16.2% when including people who have stopped looking for work and those settling for part-time jobs. Overall, the long-term unemployed -- those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more -- represent nearly 43% of the jobless. Among women age 45 to 64, the number of long-term unemployed rose 6% year-over-year in August, to 1,046,000.

As Kelly contemplates the future, she has the nagging feeling that she's looking down the economic ladder, on the verge of a dizzying slide. After all, it was a long way up. Kelly grew up on the East Coast, one of three daughters of a clerical worker and a fireman who also worked a second job. "We didn't do anything special, but we had a nice house and I was quite content. I never felt like I didn't have things," she says. Kelly put herself through college and landed in a career she loved, negotiating contracts at two different aerospace firms.

Her husband had it tougher: He started working at age 12 to support his mother and nine siblings after his father left the family. In the 1980s, he launched a mortgage business where Kelly worked part-time, and sold it a decade later for a substantial profit. "He was working himself to death," Kelly says, and she was thrilled when he finally took some time off. "He wanted to be more involved with his children. We were able to invest our money and live a modest but nice life."

The couple plowed their windfall into rental homes, the stock market and other investments. Some did well while others tanked. They set aside savings for the kids' college and gave literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to help out strapped family members. As the housing market heated up in the mid-2000s, her husband did some construction management work and started a small contracting firm.

A few years ago the couple realized their investments wouldn't sustain them long-term, so Kelly's husband went back to school and earned an MBA. "We were hoping this would make him more marketable," says Kelly. "He has an amazing financial mind, but could not find a job." Friends from business school have asked him to launch a start-up with them, but "he's afraid to invest in something because if it doesn't work, we'll be in trouble," says Kelly.

Kelly has two children in college, a high schooler, an elementary student, and one in graduate school. Her college kids work summers to help pay for textbooks and living expenses, and the oldest is footing the bill for her own master's degree. Uncertain about the future, the couple has shunned vacations, restaurants and new clothes, and is focusing on simple pleasures -- family dinners, bike rides, attending the kids' sporting events and barbecues with friends. "I'm lucky with my family and my health and that's huge in my life," says Kelly. "But I still want to be able to really contribute financially."

Guidance for Stay-At-Home-Mom Kelly

A 2009 survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy found that 73% percent of women trying to return to the workforce after a voluntary absence have trouble finding a job. And Kelly's situation mirrors another growing trend: Women in 2009 were 28% more likely to have a nonworking spouse than they were five years earlier.

I suggested Kelly talk with her husband about her taking an active role in building his small contracting business, so he could put more energy into his job search. It would provide an opportunity to refresh her office technology skills, tap her community network and flex her negotiating muscles, while building up new experience for her resume.

"Companies are extremely enthusiastic about the skills entrepreneurs have to offer," says Vivian Steir Rabin, co-author of Back on the Career Track: a Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work. Rabin, a Harvard Business School graduate, is co-founder of iRelaunch, a firm that designs career reentry programs for employers and individuals. Also a mom of five, Rabin re-entered the workforce after a seven-year break.

If Kelly prefers not to get involved in the family business, she should get focused, says Rabin: What skills did she enjoy using on the job? Is she passionate about a certain industry? Is she open to commuting or does she need to limit her search to local firms? "You have to have a target -- people can't help you unless you are more specific about what you want," says Rabin.

While she refines her target, Kelly can put up a profile on LinkedIn, listing educational institutions and former positions. That will allow her to join alumni groups for those organizations, connecting her with potential contacts and events.

That exercise can also serve as the basis for her new resume, which should include the part-time work at her husband's company and substantive volunteer work. Describe volunteer accomplishments in business terms, i.e., "Managed 50 volunteers in raising $40,000 for a school fundraiser, a 20% increase over the previous year's event."

LinkedIn can also be used to find current and former employees at Kelly's target companies, and if they're on Twitter, she should follow their activities. That could give her a clearer view of various firms' priorities and challenges. She can contact those folks and ask to meet for coffee for 20 minutes to learn more about growth areas of the company.

Make It Easy for the Company to Test You Out

Practice interviews well before you go to a real one, says Rabin: "This is where people who have been out of work a long time don't do well -- they are very defensive about the fact that they've been out and should not be." Kelly shouldn't dwell on the gap in her resume, but talk about her work accomplishments as though they happened yesterday.

Another angle: Ask to consult on a specific project for a firm, or offer to do a non-binding trial stint of three to six months. "Companies are leery of taking people on a permanent full-time basis. Make it easy for the company to test you out without having to commit," says Rabin.

Although Kelly worries about not being as available for those of her kids still at home, she's anxious to get back to an office. "I wanted to be there for them as much as I was for the others, but things change," she says. "I'm not the greatest homemaker anyway," she adds with a laugh. "I hate cooking and all that kind of stuff, so I'm better off working."

Struggling with your own personal finance situation? I welcome your questions but it's also about your wisdom, ideas, and experiences that may help other readers. Email me at laura.rowley@teamaol.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @MoneyHappiness.

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Katie Malone

I found a great company that focuses on living a natural and healthy lifestyle. While being able to earn an income staying home with your kids. Take a look at http://df.momsprovide.com

March 13 2014 at 2:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brandon Jones


My name is Brandon Jones, and I just had the pleasure of reading your blog.
I am writing today to request an opportunity to write a guest post on your blog. As a small business owner and Google Certified Partner, I have lots of experience and insight related to small business and internet marketing. I also write on the topic of work for stay at home moms.
To get a feel for my writing style, please visit my blog at www.mygooglemarketing.net.
May I submit a guest post for your consideration?
I look forward to hearing from you soon!


Brandon Jones

December 26 2011 at 2:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It doesn't matter shether a mother stays at home orcontinues to work. Either way she loses.

September 06 2011 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I sympathize. It is a very difficult job market for older workers generally and women who have been at home are particularly challenged. I stayed home for ten years, spent some time volunteering and then began working part-time in the preschool associated with my church. The pay is OK for the hours involved, I like the work and it still allows me to be available when my children are home. I would recommend something similar for Kelly. Even though a small part-time job may not be her dream, it would help her build job experience and credibilty with potential employers.

September 06 2011 at 9:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Sorry mom's all the good part time jobs are in a foreign country now. Moms would take a customer service job with a company here or maybe a nice office job. The last time i called customer service-I was in india---the mom's over there have more jobs then they need. Maybe they can buy a monthly ticket to fly back and forth with.

September 06 2011 at 9:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

She should start subbing in her local school district ( as an teacher (if qualified), an aide, lunchroom staff or clerical and then start interviewing for permanent positions as they open..I did, and ending up with a clerical job..Work the same schedule as my kids go to school, pay is better than the private sector for clerical and the benefits are great..I went back to work just for the health coverage. I was very lucky!!

September 06 2011 at 6:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Most jobs are part-yime, minimum wage, no benefit, no future typw. This woman, over 50, has several problems. One is everyone wants to hire a 25 yearo ld with 25 years of experience. Two is a potential employer knows she will stay at a job until she retires, causing increased costs to the employer whereas a young person won't stay for 15 years anywhere. She will probably wind up at Burger Barn or Wal-Mart where she will be treated like crap, and will be gone in three to four years.

September 05 2011 at 9:12 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

There are careers for which women can prepare, and they will never be out of work. Look around you. Find out where women are always needed (men, too, but are rarely found in this field.) My mom toaught me that and she was right.

September 05 2011 at 8:50 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Oh Oh. The post office needs another 5 plus billion dollars and has thousands of workers who aren't working but getting paid because of union rules. Another business being bailed out for at least the 10th time by the US taxpayer after being destroyed by the union and its huge costs of retirement, pay and work rules,

We need to elect people who will shut this Madoff like ponzi scheme for the unions and the mafia down once and for all Privatize it and sell it to the highest bidder. Another job for the tea party. I'm really tired of getting ripped of by lefties scams and cons and then getting blamed for it,

September 05 2011 at 6:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good article, but here is one thing that is a fact and has been since prior to our economic collapse. Employers tend to be weary of hiring mother's in particular returning to the workforce especially if they are still young. The premise of thought is children get sick, etc... Still require substantial care and you will not be able to give a 50 hour work week if required. I remember several years ago I applied for a position in my field. Was a preliminary interview and as the conversation went on out of the blue she asked me if I had any children? Because of my professional field I knew this was an illegal and inappropriate question, but I entertained it and responded I did (he was barely two at the time). Long story short, she then responds (and I will never forget this!) "You are aware although you have an exceptional resume and background in (field) it will be difficult for you to find a job since you have a small child. The blood rushed to my head and I responded "You are aware your question if I have children is an illegal question and your statement of my inability to secure employment would also fall under discrimination. Are you certain you read my resume in it's entirety since it is quite clear I have I am quite knowledgeable regarding employment laws in the state of (X). She stuttered incoherently and then responded "I thank you for your time and we'll be in touch. Have a good day." Never heard from them again. Was just a slight hair away from reporting them to the EEOC, but decided it wasn't worth it. Who would want to work for such an organization.

September 05 2011 at 6:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply