Workers with Nonstandard Hours Face Child Care, Transit Obstacles

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By Rhonda Smith  


Employers, policymakers, and schools should do more to address the multiple challenges that confront employees who work nonstandard hours in jobs that often pay low wages, an Urban Institute report released July 31 said.

“[W]ork and family policies have not been updated to reflect the new realities of American life,” economist María Enchautegui, the report's author and a senior researcher at the Urban Institute, said in Nonstandard Work Schedules and the Well-Being of Low-Income Families.

“One of these realities is nonstandard work hours, which pose many challenges to workers and their families,” she said.

Nonstandard work schedules are defined in the report as those that take place during evenings, nights, and weekends--outside the timespan of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

'Invisible' Workers

“[W]orkers keeping nonstandard hours are, at times, invisible to daytime workers,” the report stated. “Nevertheless, coming to clean when office workers are gone, stocking shelves in stores after hours, or guarding empty buildings overnight, workers with nonstandard schedules play a vital role in our fast-paced economy.”

The report is based in part on Bureau of Labor Statistics data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) Multiyear Files from 2003 to 2011. ATUS is based on a respondent sample of BLS's Current Population Survey.

The report noted that the percentage of employees with nonstandard work schedules has remained stable at 20 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 28 million people, since 2004.

“Workers with nonstandard schedules share the characteristics of mainstream workers,” the report said. “These are not jobs done by students and moonlighters on the side or to free up daytime hours for school or other nonwork activities.”

Enchautegui told BNA Aug. 1 that, while working nonstandard hours might be a choice for some workers, “most people take these jobs because these are the jobs that are out there. It's not because they want to take these jobs.”

For the majority of workers with nonstandard hours, the report said, the jobs they hold are both their only job (for 85 percent of them) and a full-time job (76 percent).


“[W]ork and family policies have not been updated to reflect the new realities of American life. One of these realities is nonstandard work hours, which pose many challenges to workers and their families.”




-- Economist María Enchautegui, senior researcher at the Urban Institute and author of Nonstandard Work Schedules and the Well-Being of Low-Income Families

In both groups, about 25 percent of all employees who work nonstandard hours are 30 to 40 years old.

In addition, the report said 40 percent of nonstandard-schedule workers have earnings that are lower than those of 75 percent of all employees.

Characteristics that might influence the chances that an individual will work nonstandard hours are: age, race, ethnicity, foreign birth, gender, and lack of postsecondary education.

“[B]lack workers, those without a college education, women, and the foreign born are more likely to work nonstandard than standard schedules,” the report said.

“By race and ethnicity, Asian and black workers are the most likely to have nonstandard schedules,” it said. “Higher incomes allow Asians to move away from these jobs, but black workers continue to work nonstandard hours, even at higher incomes.”

Jobs With Nonstandard Schedules

The report cited the 10 occupations with the highest share of workers who have nonstandard schedules.

They are: (1) security guards, gaming surveillance officers; (2) waiters and waitresses; (3) laborers, freight, stock, and material movers; (4) nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides; (5) stock clerks and order fillers; (6) janitors and building cleaners; (7) registered nurses; (8) cooks; (9) cashiers; and (10) personal care aides.

“Earnings in all these occupations, with the exception of registered nurses, are lower than the overall earnings,” the report said.

It added that BLS employment projections place all of these occupations, except cooks and stock clerks, among the top 30 in terms of employment growth by 2020.

“Three of these occupations--registered nurses, home health aides, and personal care aides--are among the top four with the largest projected employment growth,” the report noted.


Challenges Posed

The report outlined various obstacles employees with nonstandard hours tend to encounter, including a lack of child care and reliable transportation.

• Finding child care. “One of the main challenges facing workers with nonstandard hours is securing evening, night, or weekend child care,” the report said. “Most child care centers do not accommodate nonstandard work schedules--most close by 6:00 p.m. and are not open on weekends.”

• Lack of family time. “Failing to share time off together has implications for the quality of time families spend together and for family routines, such as eating meals together and evening activities,” the report said. “Parents who work late afternoons and evenings often cannot attend after-school events, supervise homework, and read to children before bedtime.”

• Unreliable transportation.“The transportation choices of workers with nonstandard hours are limited, with few or no buses running late at night or in the early morning,” the report said, “and limited bus routes on the weekends.”

• Little control over work schedules.“The lack of employee-driven flexibility is compounded for workers with nonstandard schedules, who are more likely to work in industries such as retail, leisure, or hospitality that require direct services and customer contact,” the report said.

• Lack of paid time off.“Paid time off allows some room for workers to accommodate unexpected circumstances that may cause them to miss work without endangering their employment,” the report said. “Low-wage workers are less likely to have paid sick days or paid vacation days than higher-wage workers, and most are not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act because they work in establishments with fewer than 50 employees.”


Policy Implications

To address the challenges that employees with nonstandard work hours face, Enchautegui suggested that an approach is needed that includes an expansion of work-related policies from lawmakers, employers, educators, and public/private alliances.

“Work-related policies addressing the challenges of working nonstandard schedules can be broadly aligned in two categories: those directed toward the worker and those directed toward the workplace,” the report said.

For example, Enchautegui said that more child care subsidies from the Department of Health and Human Services could be made available for households affected by workers with nonstandard schedules.

“Some workers have family members within the household who assist with child care at nonstandard hours,” the report said. “These resources could be considered in designing child care subsidies for low-income families so as to support the use of in-household child care providers and allow payments for them.”

Local economies could also help shape work-support strategies for nonstandard-schedule workers, the report said.

“For example, in areas where a large segment of the economy is composed of tourism, government can promote the creation of child care centers and expansion of transportation choices in tourist zones or in other areas with a high share of workers in the leisure and accommodation industries.”

Other Suggestions

Other suggestions cited in the report include subsidies for car loans and program support for nonprofit agencies that assist low-income workers in obtaining vehicles.

In addition, the report said, “State and local governments could provide tax incentives and raise awareness about the benefits of flexibility through such campaigns as the 2010 National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility from the White House Flexibility Forum.”

The report also said schools could be another important “policy actor” in this discussion.

“A lack of participation of lower-income parents in evening school activities may be due, in part, to nonstandard work schedules. But schools could provide other ways for these parents to get involved.”


Text of the report is available at

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