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.