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How the recession is reshaping the American family

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The changes taking place in the Benavides-Golder household are being echoed in different ways across the country, as millions of families restructure their lives amid the worst recession since the 1930s.

Although economic shifts always affect the American family, this downturn, both because of its depth and the disproportionate number of men being laid off, is adjusting roles and relationships at home perhaps more than at anytime since the Great Depression. It is recalibrating who earns the income, who picks up the kids at school, and who makes the weekly trip to the dump.

Not all the changes are good: As family budgets have tightened and roles changed, tensions have risen, and some advocates worry domestic violence is increasing. But in other cases, families have forged new bonds and balanced duties in ways unseen even at the height of the feminist movement.

"We've never gone into a recession like this, with this configuration of family values, with so many women in the workforce," says Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and the director of research for the Council on Contemporary Families. "If it weren't so sad for so many families, this would be an incredible social experiment."

Some of this disparity can be explained by the deep cuts in the manufacturing and construction industries, which are predominantly male. (In construction, men held 87.5 percent of the jobs at the end of 2007, in manufacturing, 71.2 percent.) In these two sectors alone, some 2 million jobs have been lost – including Kevin Hamilton's.

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