February 26, 2009

Reader Mail: How to Survive Spouse’s Lay Off

Dear JobMonkey,

My husband has worked for one of the Big 3 auto manufacturers for the last 14 years. He got his first job out of high school and has worked his way up the ladder. Then in December, he was laid off. He didn’t even get a real severance package. Until September, I had been a stay at home mom to our three kids, but thankfully we saw the writing on the wall and I was able to get a job outside the home. Unfortunately I don’t earn nearly as much as my husband did and I don’t have health insurance benefits with my job. So to say we are struggling would be an understatement. My husband is trying to keep his thoughts positive, but there is no one out there in his field hiring. I want to know how we are supposed to get through this and how I can support him during what looks like it will be a very long haul.

Worried in Wisconsin

Dear Worried,

I am so sorry for everything you guys are going through. My heart really went out to you when I opened your email. I don’t know if this will comfort you or not, but you should know that you two are definitely not alone. I recently heard that of the nearly 600,000 people who were laid off from their jobs in January, eight of 10 were men. Experts say it’s because a lot of the jobs lost are in the fields of manufacturing and construction, where the preponderance of workers are men. Regardless of the why, the bottom line is a lot of men are losing their jobs, and a lot of burden is falling on women in these already incredibly stressed economic times.

The good news is that you were able to find a job (and rather quickly, it sounds like). Without knowing what industry you work in, I am hopeful that after a few more months on the job, you will be able to earn a promotion or at least a raise, which should help with your family’s cash flow. Of course, as you know, money isn’t everything. So here are my thoughts, in no particular order, about what you can do to help your husband, yourself and your family get through this crisis.

>> Investigate health insurance options — Did you have the option to sign up for Cobra through your husband’s work? The cost is usually prohibitive, but at least you get continuity of coverage. You can stay on Cobra for up to a year, eighteen months in some cases. In the meantime, as long as you and your family members are relatively healthy with no preexisting conditions, I suggest that you look around to see if you can find a cheaper option. HSA plans are typically much less costly. When I started working as a freelancer, I found the best deals from a local insurance broker, but you should also check online sites like einsurance.com.

>> Budget, budget, budget — I have no idea about what kind of financial obligations you have, but you guys are in crisis mode right now. You need to be acutely aware of where every dollar that you bring in is going. (Maybe you’re already doing this, in which case skip ahead!) If you don’t have enough money to get through each month, prioritize your expenses. Feed your family, pay your rent or mortgage, pay your utilities, and put some gas in your car. Everything else will wait if it has to. In the meantime, can your husband pick up a part-time job, like shoveling snow (it’s still snowing in Wisconsin, right?) or delivering pizzas or newspapers? I’m guessing even a few hundred dollars a month will help right now, and a quickie part-time job will leave him plenty of time to job search during the day.

>> Explore the possibility of your husband changing careers — I posted the other day about some career fields that are still thriving in spite of this economic crisis. Not surprisingly, auto manufacturing wasn’t one of them. But your husband likely has some transferable skills that he could apply to one of these fields, namely security or green industries. JobMonkey has a whole section on green collar employment opportunities, which you may want to check out. You can also search our free job center for job openings in green industries (select “Green Jobs” under Category for a more targeted search). Also look at sites like GreenJobs.com for more inspiration. The other two still-hiring fields are education and health care. Some retraining might be necessary for your husband to break into those fields, but it might still be worth it.

A four-year degree is probably not necessary, as a lot of these careers rely on certifications together with on-the-job training. Check out our section on distance learning, which could be a good option for you guys right now.

>> Encourage your hubby with as much love as possible — I know it can be really hard to support and encourage an out-of-work spouse without it turning into a nag-fest. When you feel the frustration mounting, remind yourself that he is probably suffering from depression, on top of everything else, and that can really zap a person’s motivation. If your husband seems really stuck and unable to think creatively about his future, it might be the time to seek the help of a trusted friend, religious adviser or therapist. There is no shame is struggling, especially considering everything your family is going through, so if you or your husband are, there are people out there who can help. Meanwhile, try to find ways to laugh and have fun together, even if it’s just sitting at home playing Scrabble and sharing a glass of inexpensive wine! Hang in there: You guys will come through the other side of this!

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