Help for displaced homemakers

Michal Ann McArthur
Bend, OR

If you’re a full time mother and homemaker, have you ever asked yourself what you’d do if you suddenly had to support your family financially? I have. The question can be scary and intimidating. It confronts us with the niggling worry that an unexpected event—divorce, death, disability—might suddenly change everything and leave us with the need to earn a paycheck. If you find yourself in this position, you’re what the government calls a “displaced homemaker.”  It’s good to know what help is available if you should ever become displaced.

When my good friend, I’ll call her Nicole, first realized that she’d need to return to the workplace, she signed up for courses at our community college to upgrade her skills, concentrating on basic computer skills and learning Microsoft Office. She also found free classes at the public library and online, even on YouTube. She worked to get current in her field and participated in networking events. She met people in her profession for coffee and took every opportunity to do piecework.

Eventually, Nicole realized that the market for her profession was flat or disappearing altogether and the likelihood that she’d find work in her field was remote. This led her to ask the question, what else can I do with my skill set?

To help her find the answer, Nicole turned to WorkSource here in Bend. I didn’t realize it, but the federal government’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA) provides funding for free counseling for displaced homemakers, for assisting them in obtaining training and education, and for helping to place them in suitable employment. In Oregon, WIA services are available at a statewide network of WorkSource centers.  There’s probably one not too far from where you live. Having just filed my taxes, I have to say, Hooray for tax dollars at work doing something so useful.

At WorkSource, Nicole met a supportive and knowledgeable employment counselor, Bobbie Faust. She helped Nicole identify her skills and four main areas where she might find employment. As Nicole began to apply for jobs, she quickly learned that applications are handled online these days, not person-to-person. If she didn’t have exactly what the computer was programmed to think she should have, her application was rejected. Nicole realized that she was facing a long process. She took free brush-up classes at WorkSource and elsewhere. She discovered that the community college has counselors willing to assist people in finding classes and identifying possible careers. The public library even offers a librarian’s help for an hour to do a job search.

I asked Nicole if she had any words of wisdom she could share with us, and she said: Stay connected to people. So much of life is out of your control, it’s important to have a support system in place to keep you grounded. Be flexible. Talk to everybody. Get ideas and referrals. Follow your leads. Realize the search will take time.

Bobbie also offered a bit of advice: While you’re at home, think about being prepared to reenter the workplace should the need arise. One thing you can do now is to spend just a few hours a week volunteering. Look for a position that gives you a title and specific duties, a structure that you can point to later that will give you something to stand on. Remember, people do get jobs.

At present, Nicole is still searching, but she’s getting better and better qualified, more informed, and more confident. One day, I hope to write a follow-up story telling you that Nicole has landed her dream job and detailing how she did it. But for now, I hope this article has helped you become more prepared for whatever your future might hold. The good news is that there’s a wide variety of help out there for displaced homemakers.


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