Millions of Youth Put at Risk By Parents’ Low-Wage Jobs
November 26, 2012
Center for Social Policy
With two of every three new jobs in the U.S. over the next decade projected to be low-paying, today professors at Boston College and the University of Massachusetts Boston released the first study to examine the effect these jobs have on a previously unexamined group: youth. Approximately 16 million U.S. families are headed by parents working low-wage jobs, and the new study finds that low-quality jobs are taking a harmful, far-reaching toll on the children of parents who work them – triggering higher dropout rates and obesity among adolescents, and prolonging poverty.
Drawing on over 100 studies and sources, “How Youth Are Put At Risk by Parents’ Low-Wage Jobs” is the first-ever interdisciplinary research overview of what is known about the relationship between the status of youth and their parents’ low-wage jobs.
The researchers estimate that 3.6 million of the nation’s 20 million adolescents – one out of every six – live in low-income families where parents have low-wage jobs. With low-wage service occupations leading job creation since the end of the recession, the report raises deep concerns that the emerging economy is exacerbating economic instability among America’s working families and their children. But these are not only low paying jobs; they often have inflexible, demanding schedules that ignore family life. It is the Black Friday phenomenon, where many retail stores have expanded hours on Thanksgiving, intruding on time that most American families have traditionally enjoyed free of work.
“Low wages and lack of control over work hours are now a part of the fabric of the US economy,” said Randy Albelda, professor of economics at University of Massachusetts Boston. “Every day and year round, tens of millions of cashiers, nurses’ aides, janitors, salespeople, food servers, and elder care attendants take care or clean up after the rest of us as they struggle to support and spend time with their families.”
The family effects of these low wage jobs – particularly how teens are affected – are the focus of the report. Jobs that pay low wages and also have unpredictable, inflexible hours have profound effects of children and youth.
“When parents have to accommodate whatever demands employers make, it means their children do too,” said co-author Lisa Dodson, professor of sociology at Boston College. “Millions of working parents have job schedules that keep them from being home for homework, dinner-time talk, bed-time rituals – the most basic care all youngsters need.”
Researchers identify key features of parents’ low-wage jobs, including:
• Many low-wage parents’ earnings are so low they cannot cover the basics. They cannot pay for after-school or other programs that protect and promote the development of children and adolescents.
• Low-wage jobs often have inflexible schedules that conflict with or disrupt family time. Parents are thus denied the critical time to monitor and encourage their children and adolescents.
The effects of these jobs on young people are significant. The preponderance of research shows:
• Youth in low-wage families are more likely to drop out of school.
• Low-income youth have a greater likelihood of experiencing health problems, including obesity, and they are more likely to bear children at a young age.
• Youth in hard-pressed low-wage families who have younger siblings are likely to grow up very fast and take on adult roles thus diverting time and attention from their schooling, extracurricular activities, and personal development.
The report notes that one out of every five low-wage parents works as either a cashier, maid, cook, home health aide, or janitor. It defines “low-wage” as earning an hourly wage that is less than two-thirds of the state median hourly wage.
In addition to providing low pay, many of these jobs are also considered “low quality”: they offer few if any job benefits, unreliable schedules, little flexibility for sick or family leave, and rarely come with career ladders to build family stability and future opportunity. Furthermore, the recession has put increased pressure on parents to keep or take these types of jobs, even though they can create untenable conflicts with their family needs.
“Too often the analysis of the problems faced by low-income youth ignores the deep stresses and deprivations caused by the low-wage jobs their parents are often stuck in,” said Albelda. “When we look closely at the intersection of children’s needs and parents’ work, it’s plainly evident that working families need decent, sustainable jobs and parents must have the freedom to take care of their children, not only for their sake, but for the good of the nation.”
The authors identify three core approaches to addressing these issues:
1. Greater collaboration among policy-makers and advocates at the intersection of parents’ jobs and youth development;
2. Greaterpolicy attention to parental job benefits (like sick leave, workplace flexibility, and improved hourly wages); and
3. Improved resources for low-income youth (like after-school programs, summer programs, and other opportunities for adult attention).
Finally, the authors point to specific groups of low-wage youth and families – especially single-parent families, low-wage immigrant families, and families of color – who face higher risks and need focused attention and opportunities.
“Promoting parental employment to lower family poverty, particularly maternal employment, is by itself a deeply flawed policy,” said Dodson. “As it stands, the fastest-growing jobs do not provide working parents with the pay or flexibility they need to develop young people so they are prepared to become successful.”
Center for Social Policy, University of Massachusetts Boston
Contact: Danny Massey, Daniel@berlinrosen.com 646-200-5323
Emma Stieglitz, Emmas@berlinrosen.com 646-200-5307