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Low-Wage Work and Inflexible Work Schedules May Impact Child Well-Being

Too Small to Fail
By Too Small to Fail

During the past 30 years, the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in low-wage jobs as our economy has moved from manufacturing and industry to a retail and services-based economy. More than a quarter of Americans are currently employed in low-wage jobs, and this fast growing employment sector is projected to account for two out of every three new American jobs during the next decade. While low-wage work has been touted as the pathway out of poverty, low-wage work may actually increase financial instability over the long-term for many families.

Low-wage jobs present a unique problem for families with young children. Many parents with low-wage jobs are single mothers who have few or no additional sources of income. Their earnings are so low that they have difficulty covering basic care like food and housing, and many qualify for public benefits programs. This lack of financial stability spills over into family life, as children are exposed to the stress of deep economic uncertainty and fewer resources to aid their development. According to a report published by The Urban Institute, children of low-wage workers are generally the least ready for school.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of low-wage work is that parents who work in low-wage jobs often have unpredictable work schedules, so they cannot easily take time to care for sick children or even spend quality time with them. Many low-wage earners must remain available for “call-in” shifts, an employer practice that has gained in popularity as employers reserve the right to ask their employees to make themselves available for work without guaranteeing a paid shift. Parents of young children must then arrange for childcare even if they will not be earning pay, meaning that they must arrange for care based on cost and availability rather than quality.

Researchers continue to study the links between low-wage work and childhood poverty. In the meantime, there are efforts underway in communities and in businesses across the country to increase the predictability of work schedules and the flexibility to change schedules when family needs arise. Many employers recognize the benefits to business that come from flexible employee work schedules and have taken steps such as shift-swapping, team scheduling, self-scheduling, and seeking volunteers first for overtime.

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