Panel: Auxiliary Risks of Low Wage Jobs: Public and Private Solutions for Family Economic Security
(Employment and Training Programs)

Saturday, November 8, 2014: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Enchantment Ballroom B (Hyatt)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Anna Haley-Lock, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Panel Chairs:  Marci Ybarra, University of Chicago
Discussants:  Liz Watson, National Women's Law Center and Reid Cramer, New America Foundation

This collection of papers investigates non-wage financial employment benefits – including work hours, paid sick days, and retirement benefits, subsidized health insurance, subsidized disability insurance, job flexibility, and job stability. Together these papers illuminate variation in the availability of such supports among lower-wage and –skill jobs, often assumed to be rather uniformly “bad”; examine the economic impacts of the supports’ availability, or lack thereof; and consider private and public strategies for promoting access to these supports in low-wage jobs, and thus enhancing the employment outcomes of low-wage workers. Low-wage work in the U.S. is increasingly precarious in many respects, including being contingent, “non-regular” or temporary status, and/or involuntarily part-time; lacking stable eligibility for a range of fringe benefits; and delivering inconsistent hours of pay (Alexander & Haley-Lock, 2013; Bernhardt, et al, 2009; Kalleberg, 2009; Lambert, Haley-Lock, & Henly, 2012; Luce & Fujita, 2012). As a result, the negative economic implications of having – and lingering in – low-wage jobs extend far beyond the low wage that is currently at the center of much political advocacy and debate. That is, these other job dimensions play a large role in determining whether a worker can hold a second job to supplement income, attend school to enhance job qualifications, and remain eligible for public assistance requiring minimum work hours; budget for current expenses and save to build assets for the future; and afford to take time off from work due to personal illness or family care. We consider these non-wage economic challenges of low-wage work within a current political context that emphasizes raising the minimum wage; yet the research in this panel suggests that an array of factors unrelated to hourly wages can “make or break” the financial sustainability of employment for workers who have little or no access to compensating supports outside of the workplace. The first paper offers a detailed overview of discretionary employer practices – including paid sick days, retirement benefits, subsidized health and disability insurance, and job flexibility – that, when absent, hold back low- and middle-wage workers’ capacity for asset development over time. The second paper then closely examines the economic impacts of employers’ approaches to staffing and scheduling low-wage, hourly workers, including affecting the predictability, “workability,” as well as profitability of hours for employees. The third piece draws on an ongoing evaluation of Seattle’s recently-adopted paid sick and safe days statute to examine barriers to workers’ access to the benefit even in the face of a legal mandate for its provision. The final paper presents a case study from the health care industry to examine barriers to entry into better jobs disproportionately faced by workers of color. Each paper reviews aspects of the non-wage-related economic “problem” of lower-wage work, and in turn explores private and public policy levers for promoting the financial viability of jobs, and access to them, at the lower end of the American labor market.
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