Personal Finance: Can we have it all?

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Michelle Singletary
Thursday, April 8, 2010; 12:28 PM

Millions of people are out of work, many with years of continuous service in their fields. So what chance do you have in this economy if you got out of the job market 17 years ago to take the hard and sometimes unappreciated job of caring for your children full time?

With the nation's jobless rate near 10 percent, U.S. Labor Department statistics show that long-term unemployment among women ages 45 to 64 has more than doubled in the past year, reports Katherine Reynolds Lewis. Lewis is a Washington area writer who specializes in work, finance and family issues.

In the Post Magazine, Lewis chronicles the travails of one mother, a former lawyer, as she attempts to go back to work after nearly two decades. While being an attorney used to be the financial Holy Grail, that's not the case anymore, Lewis says. The job market for lawyers is especially difficult, with the National Association for Law Placement reporting the lowest-ever rate of job offers to summer associates, and law firms delaying new hires' start dates for the first time.

About one-third of married mothers leave the labor force to care for their children in any given year. I certainly thought about giving up writing for the Post for the harder job of taking care of my three children.

A 2005 study cited by Lewis found that 40 percent of at-home moms who want to return to work are able to land full-time positions, while another 34 percent find part-time work. Anyone with a work gap longer than a decade is likely to return at the bottom of the ladder.

For years this has been the battle for many working mothers and an increasing number of fathers - stay or go back. The Census Bureau counted 5.1 million stay-at-home moms in 2009, about 23 percent of all married mothers with children younger than 15 in their household.

Does the mom get a job?

You will have to read Lewis' story to find out. But I will say this: I was rooting for her and all the stay-at-home parents who are struggling to reenter a job market that is already overwhelmed with people trying to find paying work.

As a follow-up to the Post Magazine story, there was an online chat hosted by Lewis and Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of iRelaunch.com. They asked: Can women revive their once-flourishing careers after decades away from the workforce?

Here's just a taste of the responses from the online chat:

Winchester, Va:. "I'm a 42 year old mom, trying to re-enter the workforce after 16 years of being a stay at home mother, working various part time jobs over the years, most recently, over the past seven years, as a substitute teacher. I've been pretty discouraged lately with the job market and feeling that I don't have the necessary skills or recent experience to compete."

Katherine Reynolds Lewis: I am so sorry that you are discouraged. It is not easy -- so don't think that it's you. I would suggest that you send out fewer resumes and instead focus on developing leads through networking where you have a personal connection. Do you know whether you want to go into teaching or back to accounting? Having a focused goal is important both in selling yourself and in targeting your job search. Sometimes you can spend days just sending in resumes when the time might be better spent meeting people for coffee and figuring out the answer to your question: do you need to go back to school?

Check out the following two comments.

Upstate, N.Y.: As a divorced woman, I have seen a lot of women who gave up work to raise families, only to find themselves divorced with no job skills 10 to 20 years down the road. I underscore the importance of keeping a bit of involvement in the paid workforce world or with relevant volunteer work, just in case. You never know if a spouse might leave, die, lose their job, or become disabled. I have seen too many women wind up in poverty because they did not have a Plan B.

Washington, D.C.: I have chosen to continue to work full time. Seventeen years is a LONG employment gap. Are women that surprised to learn that their skills aren't marketable after almost two decades of staying at home? I really -want- to feel sympathetic . . . but women need to realize you can't have it all. Working women sacrifice precious time with their children. Stay at home mothers sacrifice their careers. What exactly did she expect after being out of work for 17 years?

What do you think of the last two comments? That's the Color of Money Question of the Week.

I'm not going to lead you in any one direction. I have my own feelings, but I'll share them after reading your responses. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put "Stay or Go Back To Work?" in the subject line.

Tax Deadline

With April 15th only one week away, many people are uncertain of how they are going to pay the taxes they owe.

Here are a couple of options:

--Sign up for a payment plan. If you can't pay your taxes, contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 to discuss your payment options. You may be able to set up an installment plan if your tax debt is $25,000 or less and you are able to pay your bill within five years.

--Pay what you can. If you owe taxes and can't cover the whole bill, pay as much as you can when you file your return. That will reduce the penalties and interest that will continue to accrue until the balance is paid in full.

Read more at Tips to paying Uncle Sam on April 15.

Celebrity Cash

Grammy award winning R&B artist Toni Braxton owes more than $396,00 in federal taxes, according to the Detroit News.

The Bowie, Md. native, known for hits such as "Unbreak My Heart" and "Breathe Again," and her husband, Keirston Lewis, owe income taxes from 2007 and 2008, according to the tax liens.

Unfortunately, this is not Toni Braxton's first run-in with the IRS. The singer filed for bankruptcy in 1998.

Read more here: Singer Toni Braxton bobbles tax bill.

Go Green, Save Green

Going green may allow you to save more money on your tax return.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, you may be entitled to tax credits if you've purchased certain energy efficient products. Here's more information about these and other energy-related tax credits.

Credit CARD Act Impact

Under the new credit card law, going over your credit limit is now a choice of "opting in" or "opting out." Here are some provisions of the new law that relate to this area:

--Consumers must be given the option to opt-in to go over their credit limit. This can be done orally, electronically, or in writing. If not you have not opted in, purchases that exceed the credit limit could be denied.

-- If you do not opt-in to over-limit transactions and your credit card company allows one to go through, it cannot charge you an over-limit fee.

-- Consumers can revoke their opt-in decision any time.

--Over-limit fees can only be charged once during each billing cycle.

Learn more about the credit CARD act here.

Skimmer Scam

Thieves are using ATM skimming devices to steal money from people's bank accounts.

The device, which is attached to the slot of the ATM machine, allows the thieves to capture people's ATM PINs.

Recently, a Wachovia customer in Alexandria, Va. had $1,500 skimmed from his account. He was not told how the card was compromised but learned that the same thing happened to others, report Post writers Mary Pat Flaherty and Martin Weil in Thousands of dollars taken from bank accounts linked to ATM card skimmer.

Please be careful out there when you are withdrawing money from an ATM. I know I will be from now on.

Upcoming Events

Here's a list of some of my upcoming media events and discussions about my book, "The Power to Prosper."

--April 10th, 3:30 p.m.: Appearance on CNN.

-- April 10th, 2:00 p.m.: Appearance on "The Willie Jolley Show" on XM Radio, Channel 169. The segment will air again Sunday, April 11 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.

--April 28th, 7:30 p.m.: Book signing and discussion at Union Bethel AME Church. 6810 Floral Park Rd. Brandywine, Md. 20613. For information, call 301-385-0717.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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