Let's give it up for wives and mothers.

The number of California women with children at home who became the sole breadwinners after their husbands lost their jobs in the recession rose a stunning 77 percent from 2006 through 2009, according to a study released Tuesday by the California Budget Project.

The analysts also conclude that past and likely budget cuts in the state's safety net programs and health insurance for the poor, such as Medi-Cal and CalWorks, will disproportionately affect low-income women and their families, who make up the bulk of the people who rely on the services.

The nonpartisan public policy research group, with grant money from the Women's Foundation of California, produced a set of three white papers on the effects of the recession and budget cuts on California women.

The organizations timed the reports for release before Friday's expected unveiling of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2010-11 revised budget proposal, in which he is expected to announce even deeper cuts than earlier versions.

While the recession put record numbers of men on the unemployment line, many wives kept households afloat.

"It reflects the extraordinarily high level of male job loss, which either kept women in the workforce or greatly increased the import of women's earnings to their families," said California Budget Project Executive Director Jean Ross. "What used to be potentially a second paycheck now becomes the primary or the sole support of that family."

In other significant findings:


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  • Women lost fewer jobs than men, but they still lost work. Unemployment rates among California women doubled to 10 percent from 2006 to 2009, while that of men rose from 4.7 percent to 12.3 percent.

  • The only group of women whose employment rates rose during the recession were women age 55 to 69. Older women probably stayed on the job due to losses in their home values and retirement accounts, Ross said.

  • Without wives, who worked more hours and earned more money, middle-income married couple families would have lost economic ground.

  • Women still earn less on average than men. A typical California woman in 2009 earned 89.1 cents for every dollar earned by a typical working man.

    If the recession means harried wives with children at home are shouldering the financial burden, it is even more dire for poor, single mothers who rely on the social safety net, Ross said.

    Schwarzenegger in January proposed massive cuts to social programs and with no economic recovery in sight, advocates fear even more Draconian measures in Friday's draft budget.

    "The Great Recession and the budget crises have created an imperfect storm," Ross said. "It is threatening the jobs and incomes of California women and their families, and the programs that have, in the past, provided a safety net during tough economic times."

    Ross estimates that 300,000 caregivers in the state's In-Home Health Services program, most of them women, could see their paychecks cut or lose their jobs if legislators further reduce or eliminate the service.

    And low-income residents who receive the services, also disproportionately women, could find themselves without the care that allows them to stay in their homes, she added.

    Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers politics. Contact her at 925-945-4773 or www.ibabuzz.com/politics.

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    Read full versions of the California Budget Project's three white papers at www.cbp.org: "How the Other Half Fared: The Impact of the Great Recession on Women," "The Governor's Proposed Cuts to Key Safety-Net Programs Would Disproportionately Affect Low-Income Women and Their Families" and "The Governor's Proposed Cuts to Medi-Cal Would Significantly Affect California's Low-Income Women and Their Families."