Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Precarious Work and Food Insecurity Among Single Mother Households with Children

Friday, November 13, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Amanda Sheely, London School of Economics
In this paper, I explore the relationship between food insecurity and precarious work among single mother households in the United States. In 2013, more than one in three single-mother-led households with children experienced food insecurity (US Department of Agriculture, 2014). Existing studies have documented that current financial resources are an important, but incomplete, determinant of food insecurity. Two separate strands of research have sought to understand why poverty and food insecurity are not synonymous. First, economists have shown that, among low-income households, those who experience negative income shocks and liquidity constraints are much more likely to experience food insecurity than low-income households with consistent incomes. Second, health researchers assert that, to provide adequate food for their families, mothers also need the time to plan, shop for, and prepare meals. They argue that the time scarcity faced by single mothers struggling to balance work and family demands is an important contributor to food insecurity. Bringing together these two strands of research, I argue that income volatility and time scarcity are both symptoms of a deeper problem: precarious work. Precarious work refers to employment that is “uncertain, unpredictable, and risky from the point of view of the worker” (Kalleberg, 2009). This type of employment is characterized by too few hours; fluctuating hours; shifts that occur during the evening, night, and/or weekend; and overall job instability. Precarious work can lead to income volatility as workers can lose their jobs or have the number of work hours change from week to week. Precarious work is also related to time constraints as mothers working nontraditional schedules or those that vary from week to week may struggle to find adequate time to plan, shop, and prepare meals for their families. It is important to assess both of these mechanisms as current nutritional assistance policies currently assume that reducing income volatility will be enough to improve food security (Institute of Medicine, 2013). To evaluate the relationship between precarious work and food insecurity, I use data from the 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) in two ways. First, using wave 8 from SIPP, I assess whether a relationship between precarious work characteristics (i.e. multiple jobs, involuntary part-time work, nonstandard shifts, fluctuating work hours, and overall job instability) and household food insecurity among single mother households exists after controlling for current income, income volatility, and other sociodemographic characteristics. Second, as food insecurity and work characteristics are measured twice in the 2008 panel of SIPP, to control for unobserved heterogeneity, I also calculate a first difference model that assesses whether changes in precarious work characteristics lead to changes in food insecurity over time. While there have been a few studies assessing the relationship between work characteristics and food insecurity, this will be the first to consider both income volatility and work characteristics simultaneously. The results can be used to assess whether government nutritional assistance programs that primarily focus on improving incomes will be able to substantially reduce food insecurity among these vulnerable families.