Laid-off men fight perceptions arising from 'mancession'

| Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012

In faded jeans and a gray Pitt basketball T-shirt, Patrick Connelly leans back on his leather sofa and listens for the crash.

He knows it's coming. With a 4-year-old in the house, it's a matter of when, not if.

It's all part of a new life that includes watching his wife head out to work each day while he stays home, tending to their three children, including 4-year-old Ryan, who on this day is busy scurrying through the family's West Homestead home.

It's been that way since he lost his job as a geography teacher in the Steel Valley School District and joined a national trend called the "mancession," in which a greater number of men than women have become unemployed — 5.4 million versus 2.1 million — during the recession that began in late 2007.

Across the nation, experts say the mancession exists in part because male-dominated fields such as construction and manufacturing have been hit hard — with 3.5 million of the 7.9 million jobs lost during the economic downturn in these two areas — and because men, as higher earners, are more susceptible to cost-cutting layoffs.

For every woman who lost a job during the recession, three men lost their jobs, said Heather Bushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress.

Nationally, the percentage of stay-at-home dads slightly increased from 3.5 percent to 3.8 percent last year, while the percentage of mothers who are the sole support of their families rose from 5 percent to 7 percent, according to census figures. The average number of stay-at-home dads was 4.5 percent last year in Western Pennsylvania, where economists say the mancession was slower in coming.

Because Pittsburgh had already begun shifting from manufacturing to service industry jobs, the hit wasn't as hard at first, said George-Levi Gayle, Carnegie Mellon University associate professor of economics and strategy.

"Men lost a lot more. This is a trend we've been seeing for the last 20 years," Gayle said.

On a busy Wednesday afternoon, Connelly fights the effects of being up all night with 9-year-old Jack's upset stomach, but he still follows a Flintstones episode while keeping an eye on the family's dog and a rambunctious Ryan.

"I'm going to put this curve on, Daddy," Ryan said, holding up a piece of toy railroad track. The blond boy, still in his pajamas, knelt down to attach the piece, extending the track almost across two rooms.

"That looks great, buddy," Connelly said, with a smile.

Connelly can rattle off the schedules of his children the way most men recite football statistics. He's mastered peanut butter sandwiches, slicing them into four pieces the way Ryan likes. He tackles the family's laundry load in one day, joking that he's never done so much in his life.

With his unemployment benefits drying up, he's spent four hours a day, every day, applying for more than 200 jobs to supplement his wife Cathy's job as the annual fund manager at California University of Pennsylvania.

He loves spending time with his children but has underlying feelings of guilt.

"Males, their traditional role is the breadwinner," he said. "To not do that and not have any control over it. ... It's extremely depressing to feel worthless.

"It's embarrassing," he said. "I say, 'I'm furloughed.' I never say, 'I'm unemployed.' It has a stigma."

Younger men may cope better with being stay-at-home dads, probably because they grew up in homes where both parents worked, said Alan Teich, associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Older men are thinking they're not keeping their family together, but the younger ones, not so much. I'm not sure they have that view because they grew up with their moms working," he said.

Seth Caton lost his job as a recruitment coordinator for Dads Matter in Fayette County, a group that teaches parenting skills to men, when funding dried up.

Caton, 30, of Uniontown lives in a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, 8.8 percent.

About 8 percent of Fayette County men report they stay at home while their wives work, as opposed to 4 percent nationally and 4.5 percent in Western Pennsylvania as a whole, according to census figures.

With sons aged 4 and 5, Caton relies on unemployment benefits and his wife Amy's job as a youth specialist at the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette Inc.

"Men feel the manliest when they bring home a nice paycheck," Caton said. "I feel discouraged."

Trained in graphic and web design, he's working with a consultant to devise a five-year business plan for a new graphic arts business.

In the meantime, he relishes the time with his children he realizes so many other fathers miss.

"I like watching them grow and watching their personalities develop," he said. "It's an amazing opportunity to bond."

Fayette County Commissioner Vince Zapatosky said he can't pinpoint why the county has been hit so hard by the mancession but believes the burgeoning Marcellus shale industry may be a godsend.

Marcellus shale-related jobs doubled across the state last year and are expected to continue growing, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.

"Fayette County is probably in the top 15 counties in terms of Marcellus activity," said Patrick Creighton of the Marcellus Shale Coalition

Going forward, like those who lost their jobs when the region's steel industry collapsed decades ago, many of the men who lost their jobs in the last few years will probably have to look to retraining for new careers to find jobs, Carnegie Mellon's Gayle said.

"I don't see the glory days when we had U.S. Steel and great pension and hourly wages returning right away — if ever," Gayle said. "The hot jobs presently are in health care and technology, so men would have to try to train and get jobs in those areas. Pittsburgh has a huge educational system, men should take advantage of that."

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