The Decline of the “Two Breadwinner” Family: How Long-Term Unemployment Threatens to Demolish the Middle Class
By Louis Uchitelle, The Nation
Posted on May 8, 2011, Printed on May 10, 2011
The following article first appeared in The Nation magazine. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their email newsletters here.
Keith Baudendistel counts himself lucky. The reason is convoluted. He is, after all, unemployed, having lost his factory job in East St. Louis nearly three and a half years ago.That puts him easily among the 6.1 million Americans labeled by the government as long-term unemployed. What makes Baudendistel lucky is that his wife works. And her second income, which once made the couple comfortable, is now in effect their unemployment insurance.
Born of the women’s movement and the income stagnation that started in the 1970s—soon making one income inadequate—the two-income family became a means of staying in the middle class or striving for that status. Now, one of those incomes is rapidly disappearing as more and more husbands or wives lose a job and, in a period of minimal job creation, can’t get back into the workforce. Once the unemployment benefits expire for the jobless husband or wife, the working spouse’s income then becomes the couple’s jobless pay, sustaining them, but at a lower—sometimes much lower—standard of living.