Abstract: Underemployment and Its Health Consequence for Working Families in the US (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Underemployment and Its Health Consequence for Working Families in the US

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Jaeseung Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Lonnie Golden, PhD
Background/Purpose: Low-income workers in the US are more likely to be underemployed—working fewer than desired hours—especially those in part-time jobs, where work hours may be not only inadequate, but generally unstable and unpredictable. Some employees work part time by choice or to provide care for children while others do so involuntarily because of less work availability or an inability to find full-time jobs. Research suggests that involuntary part-time employment (IVPT) is associated not only with a higher risk of poverty, but also with reduced satisfaction with one’s job and finances and coordination of work and family time. However, research that explores the linkage between IVPT and workers’ health using nationally-representative data is substantially lacking. Furthermore, a potential mechanism and variations of this association across gender and parental status are not fully assessed in the existing literature. Guided by family stress theory, we examine the extent to which IVPT, in contrast to voluntary part-time or full-time employment, influences workers’ own health. We further explore whether the association varies across gender and parental status and how material hardship mediates the association between IVPT and self-rated health.

Methods: Our data came from the 2014 Survey of Income and Program Participation. Those aged 18 to 64 who worked at least 6 months during 2014 and had valid information on key variables in both waves (Wave 1 and 2) were selected (n =18,538). Self-rated health was measured as a binary indicator (coded 0= “poor/fair/good” and 1= “very good/excellent”). Different reasons for working part time (less than 35 hours per week) include three categories: 1) IVPT, where either one could not find a full-time job or due to slack work; 2) voluntary PT (VPT), where one wanted to work part-time or participated in a job-sharing program; 3) PT for other reasons including health constraints, attending schools, and unspecified reasons. We conducted lagged-dependent variable logistic regression models that controlled for the previous year’s self-rated health in addition to demographic and employment characteristics. We also tested a mediating role of material hardship and interaction effects of gender and parental status.

Results: Multivariate results found that IVPT was consistently associated with poorer self-rated health, relative to working full time and VPT. VPT, however, was superior to full-time employment for self-rated health and more strongly associated with improved self-rated health particularly for working mothers with young children. We also found support for the mediating role of material hardship, such that IVPT was associated with a higher risk of material hardship and in turn negatively influenced workers’ self-rated health.

Implications : Our findings illustrate that IVPT is associated with reduced health and such relationship is explained in large part by increased risk of experiencing material hardship. In addition, VPT is particularly beneficial for working mothers. Considering the health gap between IVPT and VPT workers and increasing policy concerns for low-income working families and their poor working conditions, recent policy developments, such as the “Part-time Worker Bill of Rights Act,” have some promising implications for underemployed workers and their wellbeing.