Abstract: Parental Precarious Work and Family Poverty Experience in the First Six Years of a Child's Life (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Parental Precarious Work and Family Poverty Experience in the First Six Years of a Child's Life

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Wen-Jui Han, PhD, Professor and Director of Ph.D. Program, New York University, New York, NY
Liwei Zhang, MSW, PhD Candidate, New York University, New York, NY
Background: Family’s ability to raise healthy and happy children depends heavily upon resources, both within and outside of the family. These resources have changed dramatically in recent decades. In today’s global labor market, the norm is no longer the 9:00 to 5:00 standard daytime work schedule, and a 40-hour work week is insufficient for many families to stay out of poverty. Parents are increasingly required to work at jobs with low or no security that involves such as low pay with nonstandard or unpredictable schedules and are seeing more volatility in their work status, all of which may affect their ability to support their well-being and a healthy child development. This study examines the association between parental precarious work and a child’s poverty experiences during early childhood. Examining these connections is crucial as family and child well-being relies heavily on economic resources in a world with increasing inequalities and disparities.

Methods: We used the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a nationally representative survey followed a cohort of approximately 10,700 children born in the United States in 2001 from families with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Data were collected from parent interviews (mostly mothers) when children were about 9 months old (2001–2002), 2 years old (2003–2004), 4 years old (2005–2006), and approximately 5 to 6 years old (2006–2007). Our analysis used data from all four waves. Built upon literature on employment and poverty, we used four indicators to proxy for parental precarious employment – occupation prestige, hourly wage, weekly work hours, and nonstandard work schedules with a Latent Class Analysis (LCA) to distinguish patterns of parental precarious employment. We then used multivariate regression analyses controlling for a rich set of child and family characteristics to examine the links between parental precarious employment and family’s multi-dimensional poverty experience measured by depth, volatility, and duration.

Results: The LCA identified five classes of maternal employment patterns and three classes of paternal employment patterns ranging from part-time low-wage low-skilled jobs with nonstandard schedules to full-time high-wage high-skilled jobs with standard schedules. Multivariate regression analyses indicate that about half of children in our sample were poor at some point during their early childhood with various depths of poverty, constant changes in family income, and not-short-lived poverty. And at least two-thirds of the children in our sample who had parents worked at jobs with a certain degree of precarity. Specifically, for both the mother and the father, engaging in work that was precarious significantly increased the probability of children experiencing three types of economic stress: (1) being near-poor, poor, or even extremely poor, 2) volatility in family income, and 3) more spells of poverty.

Conclusions and Implications: Our results shed new light on how parental precarious employment may hurt families’ economic status during early childhood that may carry potential long-lasting consequence on child well-being. Advocating for decent living wages and reasonable work hours and schedules, a long tradition of social work profession, will go a long way to promote inter- and intra-generational equality.