Low-Wage Jobs Put Workers' Children at Risk For Obesity and Dropping Out, Report States

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By Gayle Cinquegrani

One of six American children faces a higher risk of obesity, dropping out of school, and poverty because their parents work at low-wage, dead-end jobs, according to a report released Nov. 27 by the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The report, titled How Youth Are Put At Risk by Parents' Low-Wage Jobs, presents the first interdisciplinary research about the impact that low-quality jobs have on workers' children, the center said in a Nov. 27 statement. “There is evidence that [parents'] low-wage jobs can cause harm to young people's health, education, and overall development,” the report concluded.

“For decades, the U.S. policy solution to lowering family poverty has been to promote parental--particularly maternal--employment,” the report said, even though “jobs as the solution to young people's poverty depend on the kind of work available to their parents.”

According to the report, “With the 30-year decline in higher-paying manufacturing jobs and, simultaneously, significant growth in low-wage service employment, many jobs do not provide the wages or flexibility that any parent needs to raise a family in safety and stability.”

Many low-wage jobs pay so little that they fail to cover the basic needs of workers' families, the report said. It added that many low-wage jobs fail to offer fringe benefits or a career ladder through which a worker can advance to a better job. Low-wage jobs frequently have unpredictable or inflexible work schedules that disrupt family time, according to the report.

The report defined a low-wage job as one paying an hourly wage of less than two-thirds of the state median hourly wage. The researchers estimated that 3.6 million of the nation's 20 million adolescents live in low-income families where parents have low-wage jobs.

Impact on Workers' Children
The effects of low-wage jobs on workers' children are significant, the report said. “Low-income youth are seven times more likely to drop out of school than are higher income youth, are more likely to be among the one in five American teens who are obese, and are far more likely to become parents in their teen years,” the report said.

Furthermore, youth in low-wage families who have younger siblings are more likely to assume adult roles prematurely, thereby diverting their time and attention from their schoolwork and extracurricular activities, the report pointed out.

This situation is likely to grow, according to the report, based on projections that two of every three new jobs in the United States during the next decade will fall into the low-wage category.

The report was written by Boston College sociology professor Lisa Dodson and Randy Albelda, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“Too often the analysis of the problems faced by low-income youth ignores the deep stresses and deprivations caused by the low-wage jobs their parents are often stuck in,” Albelda said in a statement. “When we look closely at the intersection of children's needs and parents' work, it's plainly evident that working families need decent, sustainable jobs and parents must have the freedom to take care of their children, not only for their sake, but for the good of the nation.”

The authors suggested that policymakers give more attention to parental job benefits, such as sick leave, workplace flexibility, and higher wages. They also recommended increased funding for resources targeted at low-income youth, including after-school programs, summer programs, and other avenues through which the youth could receive adult attention.

“Promoting parental employment to lower family poverty, particularly maternal employment, is by itself a deeply flawed policy,” Dodson said. “As it stands, the fastest-growing jobs do not provide working parents with the pay or flexibility they need to develop young people so they are prepared to become successful.”

By Gayle Cinquegrani

Text of the report is available at /uploadedfiles/BNA_V2/Images/From_BNA_V1/News/Youth-at-Risk-by-Parents-Low-Wage-Jobs(1).pdf.

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