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How Unpredictable Work Hours Turn Families Upside Down

Claire Cain Miller


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. 

    Work/Life Balance

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