SUPPORTING FAMILIES IS AN INVESTMENT IN HUMAN CAPITAL Part 2

ABSTRACT: More than one out of every five American workers is working a non-standard work schedule. This increases stress for parents, hurts their ability to be good parents, and adversely affects child and adolescent outcomes. Providing predictable work schedules for parents and allowing them flexibility to meet parenting responsibilities is good for them and their children.

The prevalence of non-standard work schedules is increasing. For hourly workers, over half (including 44% of those who are mothers with a child under 13) know their work schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for almost three-quarters of them the number of hours they work (and hence their income) varies from week to week. The lack of a consistent work schedule often prevents these workers from being able to take a second job to increase their typically low incomes.

Non-standard work schedules can prevent parents from being able to adequately care for, supervise, and be engaged with their children. As a result, their children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes are likely to suffer.

Changes in labor policies could benefit workers with non-standard work schedules and provide incentives for employers to give workers more consistent work schedules. Because these policy changes are almost certain to improve worker morale, absenteeism and turnover are likely to go down and productivity is likely to go up. The cost savings these produce for employers will offset some if not all of any costs to employers of these policy changes. These policies would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s working parents.

FULL POST: More than one out of every five American workers is working a non-standard work schedule. These work schedules include hours outside of the normal 9 to 5 work day or that vary from week to week. In some cases, the number of hours worked varies from one week to the next making income uncertain and managing a budget difficult at best. Non-standard work schedules increase stress for parents, hurt their ability to be good parents, and adversely affect child and adolescent outcomes. [1]

Providing predictable work schedules for parents and allowing them flexibility to meet parenting responsibilities is good for them and their children – an investment in our human capital. If our society truly values families, we will support them with work schedules that allow them to be good parents. (See my post Big ideas to help working parents for a set of policies, including predictable work schedules, that would help working families.)

The prevalence of non-standard work schedules is increasing. One reason is that the number of part-time and temporary or contingent jobs is increasing as the number of full-time jobs is decreasing. Another reason is that computerized scheduling programs now allow employers to match staffing levels to customer demand with greater precision and, therefore, to engage in “just-in-time” scheduling of employees. In some cases, employers call employees to come into work on short notice or require them to work beyond their scheduled shift if there is unexpectedly high demand. They also may send employees home (without pay) when they show up for scheduled work if business is slow.

For hourly workers, over half (including 44% of mothers with a child under 13) know their work schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for almost three-quarters of them the number of hours they work (and hence their income) varies from week to week. For hourly food service workers, over 80% know their schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for 90% of them the number of hours worked varies from week to week. The lack of a consistent work schedule often prevents these workers from being able to take a second job to increase their typically low incomes.

Non-standard work schedules can prevent parents from being able to adequately care for, supervise, and be engaged with their children. They may not be able to be home when children leave for school or arrive home – resulting in latch-key children who are home alone. Similarly, they may not be able to make regular child care arrangements, which is likely to decrease the quality of care a child receives. Scheduling doctors’ appointments and teacher meetings may be difficult as well.

In general, parents working non-standard work schedules cannot provide children the consistent schedules and nurturing that are critical to healthy child growth and development. As a result, their children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes are likely to suffer. For example:

  • Their toddlers exhibit problems with language development, problem solving, and learning.
  • Their preschoolers have more negative behaviors – anxiety, withdrawal, and aggression.
  • Their adolescents are more likely to exhibit delinquent, aggressive, and other negative behaviors. [2]

Non-standard work schedules are more common for younger, less educated, lower income, and minority workers. In addition, they are more common for single mothers. All of these characteristics of parents increase the risk of compromised child outcomes, and the higher likelihood of non-standard work schedules further increases this risk.

Changes in labor policies could benefit workers with non-standard work schedules and provide incentives for employers to give workers more consistent work schedules. Labor laws could require employers to give workers at least 4 weeks’ notice of their work schedules and require that they be paid for scheduled hours even if business is slow. Employers could be required to pay time and a half for extended shifts or work hours outside of the standard 9 to 5 window.

Because these policy changes are almost certain to improve worker morale, absenteeism and turnover are likely to go down and productivity is likely to go up. The cost savings these produce for employers will offset some if not all of any costs to employers of these policy changes. These policies would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s working parents.

[1]       Morsy, L., & Rothstein, R. (8/6/15). “Parents’ non-standard work schedules make adequate child rearing difficult,” Economic Policy Institute (http://www.epi.org/publication/parents-non-standard-work-schedules-make-adequate-childrearing-difficult-reforming-labor-market-practices-can-improve-childrens-cognitive-and-behavioral-outcomes/)

[2]       Morsy, L., & Rothstein, R. (8/6/15). See above.

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