Photo: Inye Wokoma/Ijo Arts Media Group
At the height of the recession, Michelle was 7 months pregnant when she was laid off from her job as a journey-level, union electrician. She was able to get some short-term, temporary work through her union, but knew she would need a full-time job to support herself and her daughter.
Although she had hoped to continue working as an electrician, Michelle was encouraged when she was recruited by her union to a federally funded green job training program. She became certified as an energy auditor, and 26 months after being laid off, Michelle is now working full-time and is a very busy mom.
Michelle is hopeful that green jobs can become career pathways for other single mothers. “I think what would need to happen on the industry end, to make these jobs more accessible to women, is for them to recognize what many women's work backgrounds can bring to the auditing process.”
“It can be just as easy to train a woman with strong computer skills and a sales background to audit a home as it is to train a person with a strong construction background to navigate unfamiliar computer programs and make a sale. Many women workers already possess the skills that would make them successful in this industry.”
Abby earned her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Washington in June 2011, which marked two years since the official end of the recession and little progress in the job market. “Although I knew it would require an immense financial commitment,” said Abby, “I was determined to earn a graduate degree.”
Initially, Abby’s job prospects looked good and she had enough in savings to afford rent and expenses. But when a position in her field fell through, she took a job as a receptionist to pay the bills.
Abby’s current position keeps her on a very tight budget, and she is concerned about how to make rent and bills when her student loan payments begin next month.
“I’m hoping to find a career position and begin using my degree soon,” says Abby. “I’ve been surprised at how difficult the job market is for everyone, including those with advanced degrees and desirable skills. The situation I’m in is frustrating, both financially and emotionally, and I know I'm not alone in feeling this way.”
Norma is a talented web designer whose company offered a flexible work schedule and the ability to telecommute. However, when she became pregnant with her second child, things at work began to change.
Norma was criticized for having a “negative” attitude, although she maintained all of her work duties despite bouts of morning sickness. And even though Norma complied with company policy after giving birth, she was fired soon after returning from maternity leave. Her employer believed that Norma’s work would suffer “because the children will come first.”
Norma sought legal counsel from Legal Voice, who fights for women’s equality equally in the workplace. Norma won, and in its ruling the Court said: The employer “type-cast” Ms. Maxwell and “appears to have been convinced that as a new mother Ms. Maxwell would not be as good of an employee as she had been prior to her second pregnancy, regardless of any individualized evidence to the contrary.”
Two years ago Kris, who is legally blind, was newly divorced with two children and few career options. The family was getting by on public assistance, but Kris was determined to start her own business and use the income to support her family.
Kris was accepted to Washington CASH, a program that helped her develop a business plan for her new business, Spirit Wind.
Soon after graduating from the program, Kris began selling her handcrafted bath and body products though local markets, but she had bigger dreams. Despite an impossible credit market, Kris secured a peer loan to purchase inventory and supplies. She now sells her products throughout the Puget Sound region, and by combining households with another family, she is able to share expenses and care for the children while continuing to run her business.
Excerpted from Washington's Working Women 2012 Last updated 12/12/2011