What is Precarious Work?
Precarious work is not a new phenomenon; is has greatly increased in the last forty years.
What is precarious work, and what are the effects of it?
Precarious work is defined as “employment that is uncertain, unpredictable, and risky from the point of view of the worker” (Kalleberg 2009). Since the 1970s precarious work has become increasingly common in the United States. Between booms in the number of workers entering the labor force and employers simply attempting to keep up with the global market, precarious work has also grown and with that a progression of problems that affect families. Between reported mental and physical health problems in mothers to hardship in finding appropriate childcare to forced utilization of personal time to take care of various family problems due to lack of adequate time off it is no wonder that family issues have occurred. With all this in mind it begs the question of how has lack of flextime in precarious work affected families in the United States?
Effects on physical health due to job or life stressors are common in this day and age and being a woman makes this none the easier. Aside from the difficulties of being a woman in the workforce, being a mother in or out of the labor market can have a marked effect on one’s physical and mental health. According to Frech and Damaske in their 2012 article, The Relationship between Mothers’ Work Pathways and Physical and Mental Health, the authors note some terminologies: steady workers, or those whom work full time; pulled back workers, those which engage in lower rate or work after the first child is born; the stay-at home-mothers; and interrupted workers, those which do not have steady employment after the first-born child. The article goes on to utilize these categories in a study in which female respondents kept updated work histories after the birth of their first child until the child’s 12th birthday and attended to a survey at the 12th birthday to rate variables on mental and physical health (Frech and Damaske 2012). The survey noted that working at least part time (pulled back) was better for overall health than staying at home or having unsteady employment. It was also noted that socioeconomic factors such as education level and class status prior or the eldest child’s birth also had an effect on the outcome.
Atypical work has had a profound effect on the precarious labor market. Atypical work is defined as “various contracting, consulting, on-call, and temporary agency work” (Surfield and Addison 2009). Through a study published at the height of the Great Recession in 2009, researchers Addison and Surfield dug into the consequences or temporary, atypical, on long-term employment. The study concluded that those whom found themselves newly unemployed sought temporary work, it often did not lead to regained status of fully employed; however, if a potential worker had a job at the initial time of beginning temp work, after eighteen months he/she would likely have achieved full employment once again (Addison and Surfield 2009). The methodology utilized in the study was from national surveys conducted biennially through the CAEAS/CPS, which uses youth cohort data from 1979 survey, referred to as NLSY79. The respondents from NLSY79 noted that those with regular work has a higher status of remaining employed through various means while atypical work had an advantage over those with initial joblessness at the beginning of the survey (Addison and Surfield 2009).
In a 2016 article in the The Berkley Journal of Employment and Labor, Robert C. Bird notes that a major issue in precarious work is a severe lack of flextime and that is effects both men and women, although it is found to have a greater effect on women overall. While gendered issues are commonly at play in things affecting the family, Bird (2016) found that while women often pull back from the workforce after a child is born, men also experience issues regarding time off to handle issues that can arise from family life. In response the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) has changed definitions of family and proposed flextime reform in response to unfair employer-employee interactions. In the article, a 2012 FMLA study noted that once the regulations were put in place, “most employers reported little difficulty” in compliance (Bird 2016).
A 2010 article by Ariel Kalil and Rebecca M. Ryan brought the idea of the fragile family, which is defined as a new form of single parenthood, which can include cohabitating, unmarried parents as well as single parents. This change over the last thirty years has brought on a slew of issues, which coupled with precarious or atypical work can potentially spell disaster for families. The fragile family brings to attention the shaky position which can be amplified by working a precarious job on top of having little to no safety net of financial assets (Kalil and Ryan 2010). It is noted that economic prospects in the single earner family are delicate as the current minimum wage is set to bare minimum support of a single person and not one with a child causing a higher likelihood of downturn in economic prosperity should an emergency befall the wage-earner.
A huge issue, which can befall any family regardless of socioeconomic status, is good childcare. Adding to family fragility and possible lack of sufficient funding is childcare subsidies have been drastically cut since the mid-1990s (Leymon and Scott 2013). Research done in the state of Oregon by Ellen K. Scott and Ann Shirley Leymon (2013) estimates that a mere 20% of those in need actually receives assistance. Bearing in mind the rising cost of living coupled with imperatives needed for children above the bare minimum (insurance, et cetera) and a lack of flex time, increases the risk of losing a job considered in the realm of precarious work due to lack of state funding for single-parent families.
Precarious work is not a new phenomenon; however, is has greatly increased in the last forty years. In the mid-1990s there was marked change in welfare reform which pushed recipients to the workforce in order to get benefits thus into precarious jobs (Kalleberg 2009). The push for change was in response to an outcry of abuses found in cash-recipients of welfare. In order to adjust to the swell of those seeking employment, employers created more temporary jobs, which can now be outsourced as a means to keep it with a global economy causing yet more strife in the precarious job market (Kalleberg 2009). Food service and some forms of healthcare are the exception, yet these jobs are often known for long hours, low pay, and quickly changing schedules, all of which add to the issues which families experience when the primary or single wage-earner is experiences one or more of these attributes.
In this time it is generally required for one to have a job, with extremely limited exceptions in the upper class. The type of family, be it single parent or fragile family, has great affect on the propensity for success and both add several major stressors. Expenses with regards to single person homes are much less demanding than those which dual or single-earner families endure as the minimum wage is designed to support one. How has lack of flextime in precarious work affected families in the United States? Stressors by way of little to no flextime, not having fair employers, difficulty finding adequate childcare, along with an unlivable minimum wage can pose risks to mental and physical health as well as a general risky position for families.
Addison, John T. and Christopher J. Surfield. 2009. “Atypical Work and Employment Continuity.” Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society 48(4):655–83.
Bird, Robert C. 2016. “Precarious Work: The Need for Flextime Employment Rights and Proposals for Reform.” Berkeley Journal of Employment & Labor Law 37(1):1–41.
Frech, A. and S. Damaske. 2012. “The Relationships between Mothers’ Work Pathways and Physical and Mental Health.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 53(4):396–412.
Kalil, Ariel and Rebecca M. Ryan. 2010. “Mothers’ Economic Conditions and Sources of Support in Fragile Families.” The Future of Children 20(2):39–61.
Kalleberg, A. L. 2012. “Job Quality and Precarious Work: Clarifications, Controversies, and Challenges.” Work and Occupations 39(4):427–48.
Scott, Ellen K. and Ann Shirley Leymon. 2013. “Making
Ends Meet During the Great Recession: How Child Care Subsidies Matter to Low-Wage Workers.” Journal of Poverty 17(1):63–85.