We've explored how the Great Recession has changed the dynamic in many households. MPR's Rupa Shenoy had a terrific piece this week on how more women than ever are the primary breadwinners, especially in Minnesota.
But here's the question: Is this a permanent shift? Will the changes that families are having to make last beyond the recession?
Some saw the shifts as temporary, a way to survive the recession. Others saw it lasting awhile as their spouse returns to school or changes careers.
"Nearly every woman I know (friend and family) is currently making more money than her husband / significant other, or is more educated," Lindsey Jackson, a Network source and health educator from Lindstrom wrote us.
Some viewed it as a permanent and necessary change.
"We could not function at our current standard of living if my wife did not continue to work. She has surpassed my highest wage ever and enjoys her work," said Shawn Hanna of Minneapolis.
My retirement income is now approx. 1/3 of our household income and hers is the other 2/3. This is a long-term change and we should be able to continue with this arrangement for another 5+ years until she retires. Seeing my wife excel in her field has been wonderful experience. Far from feeling less of a man when she surpassed me, I felt fulfilled. She suffered financially as a low paid teacher and now still teaches (in a way) and is compensated accordingly higher. I simply take the gender out of my thinking.Much of the current circumstance is driven by the deep losses in male dominated industries, especially manufacturing, the hardest hit sector in Minnesota. That created a "he-cession" but new research indicates the gap has closed in Minnesota.Bao Vang, a leadership program coordinator from St. Paul, told us about the shifts in her family economy."It's been tough being the sole breadwinner...What was a temporary arrangement is now a long term change. I only buy things for the kids (such as clothes) and not buy things for me or their dad, unless it is absolutely necessary. Our family was actually able to weather the economic downturn since we have been living off one income for the past three years, but it puts tremendous pressure of me to not lose my job."Click on the map icons below to read what others told us about their situations.
For some, the need to bring in an income runs deeper than economics.
"I have always made more money and carried the health insurance benefits," said Sheri Lechner, a clinic directory from Savage.
"My dad died when I was 15 and my mom could barely get by to support 3 daughters. She had only a high school education (same as my dad) but he had always made more money and had the job with benefits," she wrote us. "I always knew I did not want to depend on anyone else to support me."
Tell us your story about the changing economic roles in your home.
We all need a good story in this recession. We haven't had many. Here's one.
Kim Otterson always loved this land, 140 acres of rolling fields and trees in central Minnesota, from the day she walked it as a newlywed to the day she gave it up in divorce. She's come back now, for a few months, to ride out the recession with her ex-husband's widow.
That was my shorthand on the story I'd been told. Two women, Kim Otterson and Jess Benson, hurt by the recession, touched by the death of the same man, Glenn Benson, working to keep together the farm that they all loved.
We knew we needed to tell it.
Click on the play bar to hear reporter Sasha Aslanian's lovely radio piece.
Kim, 54, is a farrier, someone who shoes and cares for horse hooves. (Yeah, I'm a city kid and had to look up the word. ) I asked her to send me a view on the economy from her vantage point. I hadn't realized until she told me how bad things were in the horse business in the recession.
"It's kind of a perfect storm. Surplus horses... high feed costs, due to a weather, and maybe even ethanol production, indirectly; and the economic situation on top of it."
Then as we emailed, she wrote,
Just wanted to let you know, I moved a couple of weeks ago. I'm now living near Randall. I actually moved in with my ex-husband's widow. Kind of a weird set up but it's working. Glenn passed away the end of May and Jess has had kind of a crash course in farming.Glenn, 58, was her ex-husband. They'd owned the land in Morrison County. He kept it in the divorce and eventually married Jess. He and Jess lived there raising horses.
Kim was living in Oklahoma and returning to Minnesota. Glenn offered to help her find property. He died about the same time she returned.
Suddenly, Jess, 36, needed help keeping the farm together. She wasn't a farm kid and Glenn had taken care of so much. Kim was trying to find a way to save money to buy a farm but was burning away her savings on rent and boarding her own horses.
Keith Spandl, a friend who knew Glenn, Jess and Kim, was the first to say Kim ought to move back to the farm and help Jess. "He thought it'd be good for them both," his wife, Sharon Spandl, said.
"Kim needed a place to stay and Jessie was all be herself. Kim can run just about anything in farm equipment. So Keith says (to Kim), 'Just go over and ask her.'"
"Glenn was a fun guy," Sharon Spandl says. "He could tell you stories. We really miss him because he was a good friend."
Jess is doing all she can to keep the farm. She has a telecommuting job as a customer service representative. But keeping the land in tact will still mean selling many of the horses, including Jackson, a stallion that Kim and Glenn bought together when they were married.
Kim has filled the breach, fixing the daily problems of farm life: Buying hay, fixing tractors and stoves, knowing who to call in the region for other stuff.
The horse business has been miserable, though. Jess and Kim told us stories of how the market's dropped. That makes it even more challenging because Jess has to sell some of the horses to keep the farm intact.
She's adamant about not selling the land.
Kim's not sure how long she'll stay. She has a boyfriend and she's doing pretty well saving money for a down payment on property. She moved back to Minnesota because she thought it was her best chance to own a place again. For now, in this recession, this works.
I don't really know how this story ends. But in the worst recession in decades, we can take heart sometimes in a story like Jess and Kim. We'll keep tabs on them and I'll post updates. Find more photos here.
If you know a good story about the economy, something that tells us about how you and your neighbors are faring, drop a line and tell us.