Divorce or loss of a spouse has financial repercussions; state's worker retraining program can help.

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When Elizabeth Bothi got a divorce, she was concerned about her and her two children’s long-term financial prospects. Bothi, 37, had been financially dependent on her spouse.

“In King County, $80k is low-income for a family of four, and most single parents destined for poverty stay there,” Bothi says.

While in the process of qualifying for federal food assistance, Bothi discovered that she also qualified for a workers’ retraining program as a “displaced homemaker.”

So she entered North Seattle College; first to study for a real estate associate’s degree, then later, a bachelor’s degree in international business.

What does it take as a qualify as a displaced homemaker? It’s when someone has been offering unpaid services to one or more family members in the home, but has now lost a family member’s income (upon which they were reliant) due to death, divorce or separation. Now, the homemaker is unemployed or underemployed, and having a difficult time finding a job.

Displaced homemakers are in an eligible category for worker retraining, in Washington state, notes Cindy Donohue, worker retraining specialist at North Seattle College. In the state’s Worker Retraining Program, homemakers can receive training for a new career, including support services such as financial aid, career advising, education planning, training referrals, job referrals and job development.

Most displaced homemakers have some work experience, but need to upgrade their skills, says Savena Garrett, workforce education director at Shoreline Community College.

“Technology moves at such a fast rate, that even the current labor force has trouble keeping up,” Garrett says.

All 34 community and technical colleges in Washington state serve displaced homemakers in on-campus worker-retraining programs, Donohue says.

Those who may qualifying as displaced homemakers can check an on-campus Workforce Education department to discover guidelines and documents required to qualify as a displaced homemaker under worker retraining. For example, at North Seattle College, Worker Retraining doesn’t consider income if an individual is unemployed, but will if the individual is underemployed: household income must not exceed 175 percent of the federal poverty level.

North Seattle College’s Worker Retraining program currently serves between 30–35 displaced homemakers per year.

“This is a low number of displaced homemakers we serve,” Donohue says. “We know there are more in the community who would qualify and would love to find ways to tap into this population and get them into career training.”

At Shoreline Community College, displaced homemakers in the program have included men and women, husband and wives, and even grandparents. “A grandfather was taking care of his son’s children, and his son was providing the income for the family,” Garrett says. “When the son was transferred, Grandpa didn’t move with them so he became a displaced homemaker.”

Displaced homemakers face many challenges, Garrett says. Those challenges may include single parenting on a reduced income, competing in a technologically advanced job market at an older age, unfamiliarity with automatic tracking systems in the job search, and lack of experience.

Those who also held part-time jobs may have fewer challenges with résumé gaps and workplace experiences.

Just finding child care can be difficult, Donohue says. So homemakers may need to rely on child care subsidies available through federal, state and city programs.

Another challenge: finding support from family, friends and community while in school.

“Students who lack support often find solace and support from other students at the college and some who may be in a similar situation,” Donohue says.

Displaced homemakers are encouraged by Workforce staff to think about tasks they’ve mastered in their at-home CEO career, such as tracking schedules, budgeting, advocating for their child’s special services and researching legal matters during the divorce.

“They will likely realize that many of the skills they were using are valuable to employers and can transfer to the workplace,” says Garrett, who adds that soft skills are very important to employers, too. Examples include communication talents, creative problem-solving, time management, teamwork and leadership.

Workforce Education encourages going into a career that relies on skills they learned as a family caregiver (child care, elder care, organization, purchasing) or use the opportunity to go into a field they always dreamed of, whether that be graphic design or business ownership.

Because money is tight, displaced homemakers tend to favor fast, high-demand certificate programs, Garrett says, including accounting, payroll clerk, medical coding and reimbursement, business administration, business technology, general service technician and CNC machining.

“Worker Retraining does fund classes for students toward Career Training programs, which include certificates, AAS, AAS-T and BAS degrees. It also funds ABE, ESL, GED and High School 21 classes,” says Melissa Mixon, director of marketing and communications at North Seattle College.

As for Bothi, she’ll complete her degree this year. “Everything will be fine,” Bothi says. “I’m so grateful.”