Abstract: What Happens When the Fight for $15 Is Won? Strategies to Cope with Hardship Among Low-Wage Parents (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

What Happens When the Fight for $15 Is Won? Strategies to Cope with Hardship Among Low-Wage Parents

Friday, January 18, 2019: 2:15 PM
Union Square 1 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Kess Ballentine, MA, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Kristen MacKenzie, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Sara Goodkind, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Just under half of the U.S. workforce earns less than $15 per hour,
despite evidence that this is not enough to meet the needs of most workers and their families.
Most research on the national movement for a $15 minimum wage investigates the effects on
employers, less often examining effects on workers. Given the vulnerability of parents and
children to poverty and the relationships between parent and child well-being, specific attention
should be paid to the impact of these policies on quality of life for low-wage families. The
purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of low-wage parents and to delineate
their strategies to pay expenses and accomplish caregiving before and after receiving a wage
increase. It further examined the association between wage changes, total household income, and
frequency of use of hardship strategies.

Methods: Data are from the first wave of a mixed-methods longitudinal study examining the
effects of raising the wage floor to $15 per hour for low-wage hospital workers. Subsets of both
the quantitative and qualitative samples that include parents with at least one dependent child
under age 18 are included in these analyses. Thus, analyses include 58 participants completing
surveys that measured family wage, income, hardships, and well-being and 13 completing in-
depth interviews focused on strategies used to manage hardships. Qualitative codes were
developed inductively and data were analyzed using NVivo. Hierarchical linear regression was
used with survey data to examine the association between wage change, household income, and
the number of hardship strategies used.

Results: Qualitative analysis identified strategies that illustrate a range of hardships, from
extreme hardship (e.g., going hungry) to minimal hardship (e.g., saving for emergencies).
Strategies were grouped across a three-level spectrum of extreme, medium, and low hardship.
The use of different types of hardship strategies was more related to overall household income
than to participants’ individual wages. Quantitative analysis of survey data supported these
findings. Hierarchical regression analysis revealed that individual wage change was not related
to the number of hardship-related strategies used by parents. However, a significant association
was found between household income and the cumulative strategies measure with a $10,000
increase in total household income predicting nearly half a standard deviation reduction in the
number of hardship strategies used. People of color used significantly more hardship-related
strategies than White participants.

Conclusions and Implications: The effects of incremental wage changes may not be felt if they
do not result in significant changes in household income. Parents who have low household
income, regardless of hourly wage, face serious hardships. Thus, relationship status can be a
significant predictor of well-being since single parents often have lower overall household
income. People of color used more extreme hardship strategies even when controlling for family
structure, wage, and household income, suggesting that an intersectional approach is important
for research and the movement to raise wages. Social work researchers have much to contribute
to national conversations and efforts to raise the minimum wage and ensure an adequate
household income for families.