Unpredictable schedules can be brutal for hourly workers, upending their lives. New research shows that African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities — particularly women — are much more likely to be assigned irregular schedules, and that the harmful repercussions are felt not just by the workers but also their families.
The findings come from continuing surveys of 30,000 hourly workers by the Shift Project at the University of California. The researchers compared workers who earned the same wages, including at the same employers, but had different degrees of predictability in their schedules. Those with irregular hours fared worse — and so did their children.
Black and Hispanic women had the worst schedules, and white men had the best, the researchers found. The children of workers with precarious schedules had worse behavior and more inconsistent child care than those whose parents had stable schedules.
“We’re talking about serious deprivation from relentlessly unstable paychecks,” said Daniel Schneider, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who works on the Shift Project with Kristen Harknett, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
The Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a left-leaning policy group, published five papers based on data about various subsets of the 30,000 survey respondents who are part of the Shift Project.
Workers at all income levels are increasingly expected to be on call. At the high end, it can lead to overwork. At the low end, it means getting work schedules at the last minute, varying day to day, and not being guaranteed the number of hours that employees may need to support themselves.
The researchers said the biggest reason for the scheduling differences by race was not because of factors like education or which jobs workers chose, but because managers gave worse shifts to employees who weren’t white.
Workers of color were 30% more likely than white workers to have had a shift canceled in the last month, for example. They had more schedule instability even when they had the same education, age and other characteristics as white workers, and worked at the same companies.
“We think what’s left after parsing out all these other reasons is discrimination,” Schneider said.
Children of parents with precarious schedules were much more likely to exhibit anxiety, guilt or sadness than children of parents with stable schedules, according to survey results from 4,300 workers with children 15 and younger. They were also more likely to argue, destroy things and have tantrums.
Perhaps the biggest stressor for parents with unpredictable schedules was finding child care. Formal, high-quality day cares don’t allow families to drop off children unplanned and rarely operate outside typical business hours.