Thursday, January 11, 2018: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Independence BR C (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Work, Family, and Family Policy
Sara Goodkind, PhD, MSW, University of Pittsburgh,
Kess Ballentine, MA, University of Pittsburgh,
Heather Hill, PhD, University of Washington,
Jeffrey Shook, PhD, JD, University of Pittsburgh,
Rafael Engel, PhD, University of Pittsburgh and
Scott Allard, PhD, University of Washington
Attention to the struggles of low-wage workers in the U.S. has increased over the last decade. From movements to raise the minimum wage, such as the Fight for $15 campaign that has spread throughout the country, to unionization drives in specific fields and workplaces, the circumstances and challenges of low-wage workers are increasingly entering public debate. Conventional wisdom was that low-wage workers were primarily teenagers, workers without families to support, or workers without high school or college education. However, research has found that over three-quarters of low-wage workers have at least a high school diploma, almost 90% of low-wage workers are 20 years and older, and the majority of low-wage workers are women and many of these women have children. As employers raise wages of low-wage workers, there is anecdotal evidence that these increases may not only enable workers to better support their families but may also increase their job satisfaction and, as a result, enhance their job performance and decrease rates of turnover. In these ways, it is hypothesized that increasing wages for low-wage workers is beneficial for multiple stakeholders. However, wage increases may also have some unintended negative effects, such as limiting workers' eligibility for needed supports. There is little research documenting these effects, given how recent these changes are.
Understanding the struggles of low-wage workers is important because many low-wage workers are supporting themselves and their families with extremely limited resources and face substantial hardship in doing so. It is also important because a large portion of the U.S. workforce earns low wages. Just under half of the U.S. workforce earns less than $15 per hour, despite substantial evidence that this is not enough to meet the needs of most workers and their families.
The proposed roundtable brings together researchers from across the country studying the effects of wage increases for low-wage workers, in a variety of contexts and via a variety of methods. Participants include researchers examining multiple types of wage increases, such as city-wide minimum wage increases and workplace-specific sets of raises for all service workers, including those making above $15 per hour. Participants' research spans a range of methods and foci, including in-depth interviews with workers, surveys of workers and employers, and examination of labor market conditions. This research examines economic effects of wage increases, as well as effects on workers' physical and mental health, happiness, and communities. The goal of this roundtable is to increase social work researchers' knowledge of the value and complexities of research on the impacts of increasing wages for low-wage workers. The roundtable will provide perspectives that support the participation of social work researchers on interdisciplinary teams to study the effects of these wage increases, and will highlight the importance of studying this aspect of the lives of social work clients, as we work towards the SSWR theme goals of achieving equal opportunity, equity, and justice.