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Nonstandard Work Week's Problems Plague Low-Wage Workers
8/3/2013 2:01:12 PM


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Forty percent of full-time workers toiling outside the traditional daytime weekday schedule bring home paychecks that put them in the lowest wage quartile, an Urban Institute analysis of 2011 Census Bureau data shows. Among all full-time employees with very low wages, 25 percent work most of their hours on a nonstandard schedule.

The consequences of nonstandard work hours (6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Friday and anytime on weekends), such as child care and transportation problems, marital conflict, family instability, and health stresses, lie heavily on low-income families, Maria Enchautegui explains in "Nonstandard Work Schedules and the Well-Being of Low-Income Families."

And while nonstandard-schedule workers share some of the same challenges with daytime low-wage employees -- including working on employer-controlled schedules, limited paid time off, and unpredictable hours -- they confront special difficulties carving out time for family, keeping to household routines, and helping children with schoolwork.

Nonstandard-schedule workers, for instance, generally spend less time with children and family than standard-schedule workers. Low-income men with nonstandard schedules spend 27 minutes less per day with their school-age children than comparable men with standard schedules, the largest relative difference.

Trends, Patterns, and Forecasts
Between 2010 and 2011, 15 percent of full-time workers (17 million men and women) racked up more than half their hours outside the 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. time band or on weekends. The typical worker spends 14 percent of his or her working time during nonstandard hours. For most workers with nonstandard schedules, these jobs are their only jobs (85 percent) and full-time jobs (76 percent).

The leading occupations with nonstandard schedules attest to the low wages of these jobs: security guards and gaming surveillance officers (56 percent of whom have nonstandard schedules, with median full-time weekly earnings of $519 in 2011); waiters and waitresses (53 percent, $407); laborers and freight, stock, and material movers (48 percent, $509); nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides (44 percent, $453); stock clerks and order fillers (44 percent, $492); janitors and building cleaners (40 percent, $489); registered nurses (36 percent, $1,039); cooks (35 percent, $390); cashiers (35 percent, $383); and personal care aides (34 percent, $412).

Bureau of Labor Statistics projections place all these occupations, except cooks and stock clerks, among the top 30 for job growth by 2020. Registered nurses, home health aides, and personal care aides are among the top four with the largest projected employment growth.

The industries with the highest share of nonstandard-schedule workers are also associated with low wages. Hotels and restaurants are at the top with 42 percent of all workers having nonstandard hours.

Among low-income workers, Asians are the most likely to work nonstandard schedules. But overall, black workers, those without a college education, women, and the foreign-born are more likely to work nonstandard than standard schedules. As their incomes rise, Asians tend to move out of nonstandard-schedule jobs, but this is not the case for black workers.

Lower-income women in households with preschool-age children are 17 to 30 percent more likely than other women to work nonstandard schedules, due, at least in part, to child care's high cost. The presence of other women in the home, who can serve as caregivers and household support, increases the chances of working nonstandard schedules 12 to 42 percent.

"One implication of this study for low-income working families is that work support strategies can work better if they take into consideration family and economic contexts, such as the amount and location of nonstandard work in the local economy," said Enchautegui. "For example, in tourism-dependent areas government can promote the creation of child care centers and expansion of transportation choices in tourist zones or in other areas with a high share of workers in the leisure and accommodation industries."

"Nonstandard Work Schedules and the Well-Being of Low-Income Families" is part of the Urban Institute's Low-Income Working Families Project, which focuses on the private- and public-sector contexts for families' success or failure. The Low-Income Working Families Project is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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