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Balancing Act: Earning from home

Many moms are finding themselves in a new scenario: seeking work-at home arrangements driven not by flexibility -- think soccer practices and piano recitals -- but as the best option to supplement family income.

With a surge in husbands out of work, mothers are selling jewelry out of their kitchens, running businesses out of their living rooms and seeking Internet opportunities to make up for the shortfall in household budgets.

"There's been a huge surge in interest,'' says Lesley Spencer Pyle, founder of Home-Based Working Moms, an online community for moms working at home. "Even if their husband isn't out of work, there's a lot of fear that they will be.''

Women are scrambling to find anything that they can get their hands on to pay a few bills. Some are even working from home to supplement their part-time income. For most men, the main priority still is finding a full-time job, devoting almost all their day to their search.

But with four unemployed workers for every job opening, moms like Kim Perez of Pembroke Pines are moving into action. A few months ago, recession reality forced Perez, mother of a toddler, to look for new money-making possibilities when her hours as a retail sales associate were cut in half. Her husband, a builder, has been out of work for almost a year.

Perez considers herself in transition. She has set up a makeshift office in her bedroom and sells glass jewelry to high-end stores in South Florida and the Caribbean for a manufacturer. "I'm hoping I can turn this into a full-time arrangement and make good money.''

About 800,000 women have lost full-time positions in the past 12 months, and those on payrolls part time grew by nearly 900,000. For the women who work part time, first-quarter median earnings were just $269 a week. Men are increasingly seeing their schedules reduced, too. As of March, the number of men working part-time increased 14 percent from a year earlier.

To make ends meet, about 14 percent of working moms have taken second jobs in the past year, according to CareerBuilder's annual Mother's Day survey.

"Women have been very resilient,'' says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. "Their identity is not as tied into what they do. They are ready to do whatever they need to do for the family.''

Pyle who runs both Home-Based Working Moms, with 900 members, and HireMyMom.com, with 1,800 members, says interest is much greater from mothers who want to work for an employer rather than start their own businesses. She offers this advice: "Mothers looking for instant ways to make money will jump on anything. But if you hate sales, it won't work out in the long run. Even if takes longer, make the effort to find a better fit.''

Opportunities to work from home exist as bookkeepers, graphic designers, virtual assistants, customer service reps and writers. Some home-based businesses operated by mothers include advertising agencies, photography studios and child-care centers.

If there's a role model for moms in transition, consider it Laurie Conway, a Davie mother of two. Conway began working from home as a manufacturers representative in the floral industry about 22 years ago.

Today Conway represents five manufacturers, earns enough to comfortably support her family and works completely on commission from a home office/living room. "What I do can be done in almost any industry,'' Conway says. She recommends checking out websites mrpusa.com and manufacturers-representatives.com.

HELP FOR MOMTREPRENEURS

The Launch Pad at the University of Miami has a new program to help moms and dads become entrepreneurs. The MOMentum program features a free series of lectures every month.This month's speaker is Carol Fenster, CEO and co-founder of Baby Abuelita Productions, which makes plush dolls that sing lullabies and nursery rhymes in Spanish. The company started with three moms around a kitchen table, and now the dolls are sold by the thousands in big retail stores. Read the MomsMiami story on Fenster here. Read more about MOMentum here.

The MOMentum workshop is 9 to 11 a.m. May 30 at the Miami Children's Museum, 980 MacArthur Causeway, Miami. It's free for parents. You can bring the kids, who can participate in museum activities, for $12 each. RSVP at 305-373-5437, ext. 142.

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