Low wage workers are speaking up these days and organizing for better wages and working conditions. For lots of good reasons, including that when parents have to accommodate whatever demands employers make, it means their children do too. 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. Drawing on over 100 studies and sources, the report “ How Youth Are Put At Risk by Parents’ Low-Wage Jobs , ” my co-author Lisa Dodson a sociologist at Boston College and I provide an interdisciplinary research overview of what is known about the relationship between the status of youth and their parents’ low-wage jobs.
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. Further 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.
Low wages coupled with lack of control over work time leads to serious problems for young people. Youth in low-wage families are more likely to drop out of school. They also 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.
Lisa and I have identified three core approaches to addressing these issues. First, we argue for greater collaboration among those would advocate and set policies at the intersections of parents’ jobs and youth development. Second, as low-wage workers are demanding, the quality of low-wage jobs need to be improved and can be with little cost to businesses or consumers. Third, we need improved out-of-school resources for low-income youth.
Employment can be a way out of poverty, put for too many families in the United States it is not. Low-wage work without adequate employer benefits, the lack of ability to negotiate over work schedule, and a weak set of government supports for low-income workers, perpetuates all the problems associated with poverty and is costly to these families, the communities they live in, and ultimately all of us.
Randy Albelda is Professor of Economics and Senior Research Associate at the Center for Social Policy at University of Massachusetts Boston. Lisa Dodson is Research Professor Sociology at Boston College and Diana Salas Coronado, CSP research assistant and public policy doctoral student at University of Massachusetts Boston, and Mayra Mtshali, doctoral student at Boston College, assisted in the research for the report.