Abstract: Unequal Labor Market Experience of Frontline Social Workers in the US during COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Unequal Labor Market Experience of Frontline Social Workers in the US during COVID-19

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun E, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Hyojin Cho, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago
Background/Purpose: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated one of the chronic challenges in the human service field: high worker turnover. A record number of workers have left their jobs, and the human service field has been particularly hard hit by this massive exodus of workers. However, little is known about the uneven labor market experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the human service field. Who is more likely to leave the human service jobs? This holds particular relevance to the diversity of the frontline human service workforce, which is critical to providing equitable and inclusive services to marginalized communities.

Methods: I use the US monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) data from March 2020 to December 2021 for analysis. I utilize a partial panel design of the CPS data to explore short-term labor market dynamics by linking two adjacent months of information per respondent. The analytic sample includes counselors and social workers working in the major human services fields (healthcare, education, and social services) (N=3,000). The outcome variables include 1) being unemployed, 2) exiting the labor force (i.e., neither working nor looking for work), and 3) moving to non-human service jobs. The explanatory variables include age, gender, race/ethnicity, educational background, and a set of job characteristics such as being able to work remotely during COVID, part-time work status, multiple job-holding, sectors, and industry. Linear probability models are estimated.

Results: The preliminary findings suggest that the probability of exiting the labor force and moving to non-human service jobs remains significantly higher than March 2020 over the study period. Workers with higher educational backgrounds are less likely to be unemployed, leave the labor force, or move to non-human service jobs. Black and workers of other racial/ethnic groups (e.g., Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander) are more likely to move to non-human service jobs compared to White. Working remotely is associated with a lower probability of labor force exit. Part-time workers are more likely to be unemployed and leave the labor force than full-time workers.

Conclusions/Implications: Consistent with a broad discussion around the Great Resignation, the study presents a continuing issue of worker turnover in the human service field. The finding that social workers of racial/ethnic minorities are more likely to leave human service jobs than White is concerning as it may pose a structural challenge in providing equitable services to the marginalized communities. Certain job qualities, such as working remotely and full-time, may serve as protective factors for workers to keep human service jobs, though not all workers have access to them. The study indicates a need for future research to understand why racial/ethnic minority workers disproportionately leave the social work jobs and the stratification in job quality among social workers.