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Recession has more moms entering workforce

Shoshana Magazine, 41, had been a stay-at-home mom for 14 years when she and her husband received bad news about his job as a construction project manager. They both scrambled to get work.

Magazine took a job as a legal assistant in a firm owned by her in-laws, even though her doctoral degree is in human resources. After four months, her husband found a new position in his field, but it paid less than his old job. She kept working.

Magazine became part of the decline in the ranks of stay-at-home moms, whose numbers have fallen from 5.3 million in 2007 to 5.1 million in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There was no statistically significant difference in the number of stay-at-home dads.

Although Magazine is glad she has a job, she says she misses the extra time she had with her children, ages 2, 7 and 14. Now the family's evenings are jammed with day-care pickup, homework, dinner and bedtime, though she knows this is nothing new for many families.

The upside: Her older children are more independent and pitch in with chores. And maybe they will benefit from seeing a family pull together in hard times, she said.

"I have really mixed feelings about the whole thing," she said. "But right now, I don't have a choice."

Nationally, Kuae Kelch Mattox, 44, hears an increasing number of stories about the economy's toll on stay-at-home moms, whom her organization, Mocha Moms, brings together in chapters nationwide. In her own case, she said, her husband owns a small business that has been affected by the economy, so "we're feeling the squeeze," which has her looking for a job in journalism after 10 years at home. "I have to do what I can on my end to pitch in more," she said.

Census data show that the number of married, working couples with children younger than 18 declined from 63 percent in 2007 to 59 percent in 2009. Those with only a wife employed edged up from 5 percent in 2007 to 7 percent in 2009.

For Fields, 51, change has meant tradeoffs.

When her husband lost his position as a lawyer at a small communications law firm, she immediately asked for full-time hours. Still, "we lost more than half of our income," she said. And for her, it was hard to give up her after-school time with her children.

"That's what I really miss, those few hours in the afternoon," she said. "I feel when I get home at 6 p.m., there's no room to breathe." Still, Fields appreciates "the silver linings," she said, which include her husband's increased presence at home; there are more family dinners together, and they've decided to adopt a dog.

Tough times can bring families together -- or severely stress them, experts say. Scores of studies have shown that unemployment and economic instability can lead to feelings of depression and undermine marital satisfaction, said Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the University of Michigan.

In the District, Stephanie Johnson Hunt, 33, said economic turmoil had a role in her marital problems. An engineer who stayed home when her children were born and then started a small business, Hunt and her husband clashed about whether she should return to a job in her field as the recession set in. In fall 2008, she began looking for a full-time position but ultimately separated from her husband and now raises her two children, ages 4 and 7, on her own.

"The financial strain on the marriage definitely played a part," said Hunt, who went in a relatively short period from a stay-at-home mom to a working mom to a single mom. "I don't have another option now. I have to work."

Sometimes rejoining the working world is not easy. Work has been hard to replace in this downturn, with recent figures showing that 41 percent of job-seekers have been unemployed for at least six months.

Doda Johnson, 43, a mother of two in Rockville, has been looking for a job since April, when she and her family returned from her husband's job assignment overseas. "With the economy right now," she said, "I feel like I have to go back to work." But with mostly volunteer work and consultant positions on her résumé, she has had little luck in the nonprofit sector. "I feel frustrated, and I feel kind of hopeless at this point," she said.

Johnson finally took a job caring for a neighbor's child. It generates a small income, which helps but "is not what I aspired for," she said. "I have a master's degree, and I'm babysitting."

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