While women in North Carolina have made tremendous gains as workers in the economy, about 40 percent of women aged 16 and older are not in the labor force. There are many possible reasons, including difficulty finding a job, choosing to pursue higher education, and the need to provide care for children or loved ones.
However, not being part of the labor force can mean financial trouble when life unexpectedly changes. A divorce, a spouse’s death, disability or unemployment can force a person onto the job market. But for those who have been working in the home, perhaps for years or even their entire adult lives, a lack of marketable skills can make finding a living-wage job nearly impossible.
Many women have traveled this path before, and they created a network to help those who came after them. The Displaced Homemaker Movement was born in the 1970s, when divorce became more common and women who were once homemakers needed to find jobs. Today, there is a nationwide network of more than 1,000 displaced homemaker programs that focus on education, vocational skills, job training and counseling, health and more.
In North Carolina, the NC Council for Women funds 35 displaced homemaker programs across the state. The program’s goal is help former homemakers—mostly women but also some men—train for and get jobs that enable them to be economically self-sufficient.
And in many cases, that means training them for jobs that aren’t typically held by women, because traditionally male-dominated occupations pay better.
“Some of the programs we work with that are training women in the Displaced Homemaker Program are looking at training them into those non-traditional jobs – construction, mechanics,” said Beth Briggs, executive director of the NC Council for Women. “These are jobs that might pay $15 an hour as opposed to jobs that pay $7 or $8 an hour.”
Participants in a Displaced Homemaker Program may also get training in computer skills, financial literacy, resume building and interviewing. The programs may even provide funds to help pay for trainings, tuition, books or certification fees.
Laurie Shields co-founded the Displaced Homemaker Network after her husband died when she was 50 years old and she had no way to support herself. Her decision to organize other women and to advocate for better opportunities has made a difference in thousands of lives for the past four decades.