CHRIS LOMBARDI, a 47-year-old writer and journalist, has a ready answer when people ask why she and her partner, Rachel Rawlings, 41, have been living for seven months in a spare bedroom in the home of her partner’s parents:

“I shrug and say, ‘We’re like the couple in the commercial, sorta,’ ” Ms. Lombardi says.

In that “sorta,” lies the tale: A career change from university instructor to journalism three years ago first put Ms. Lombardi in debt, then landed her in a job market of low pay and diminishing opportunities, right alongside her partner, a technical writer. By late 2008, the couple could no longer afford the $1,100 rent on their one-bedroom in upper Manhattan

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