by Mike Rose

A high school senior, Carlos is already a promising carpenter. He is volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity site, assembling the frames for the bedroom walls, the boards for one frame laid out neatly in front of him. He measures the distance between them. Measures again. Then he drives one nail, then another, stopping occasionally to check with his eye or a framing square the trueness of the frame. I ask Carlos about this precision. He says that when the frame is finished, “I know it’s going to be straight and well done.” He pauses and adds: “That’s the way I am.”

In the midst of this campaign season’s speeches about the economy and job creation, we should stop and think about the personal meaning of work and whether we are providing enough opportunities for young people to discover that meaning for themselves. This is especially true for the many members of the younger generation who are planning to enter the workforce right out of high school or after attending community college.

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A recent New York Times article by Motoko Rich discusses the extensive and increasing feminization of the teaching profession in the United States, where “more than three-quarters of all teachers in kindergarten through high school are women.”

The article quotes WIP regular contributor Christine Williams, who notes that men get promoted more quickly into senior positions than women in teaching. It also quotes WIP favorite Phillip Cohen, of the Family Inequality blog, who notes that part of the reason why the teaching profession is devalued in American society is because it is seen as a women’s job.

We are posting a two-part panel today on part-time and irregular work schedules in the United States, with WIP regular contributors Christine Williams and Martha Crowley responding to a recent New York Times article by WIP favorite Steven Greenhouse.

Based on her qualitative research on low-wage service work, Christine discusses how irregular work schedules operate as a mechanism to reproduce gender and racial inequality in the workplace.

Martha discusses recent efforts of women’s and labor groups to introduce legislation allowing workers to have more predictable schedules if desired. She cites evidence that irregular schedules are particularly damaging to low-wage workers and that more stable work schedules would benefit workers and employers.

Walmart workerBad jobs are usually defined as those with low pay, little autonomy, and few benefits. Add to the list irregular hours. As Steven Greenhouse describes in his New York Times article on the part-time labor force, workers today are suffering from erratic scheduling. In the service industry, employers routinely cut their hours or send them home early when customer traffic slows. On the flipside, workers are required to be on call or stay late during especially busy times. Erratic hours not only mean income insecurity, but also result in the inability to do anything else, like search for a second job or take a class.

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ticking clocksAnyone who has worked a nonstandard, part-time job is familiar with the issues: uncertain hours, fluctuating pay and last-minute change. Add to that a more recent scheduling innovation increasingly common in retail work: on-call hours that require workers to set aside time they may be required to work, with no compensation for that time and no guarantee of hours or pay.

Variable schedules are particularly challenging for parents, who can find it difficult to arrange childcare, attend school events, and even maintain morning and bedtime routines. Fluctuating schedules can interfere with ability to attend school or hold down an additional job. Because pay varies with hours, workers may also have difficulty making ends meet.

In response to demands of women’s and labor groups, government officials are increasingly enacting or proposing legislation aiming to curtail practices that present the greatest challenges to employees. Many workers have gained the right to request predictable schedules (although laws currently do not require employers to honor their requests). Other proposals call for work schedules posted two weeks in advance, compensation for on-call status, and extra pay if workers are called in with less than 24-hours notice or are sent home after just a few hours of work.

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The WIP team is delighted to welcome a new regular contributor, Christine Williams, professor and chair of the sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin.

Christine has published leading research on discrimination, homophobia, and sexual harassment in a wide variety of workplace settings. Her most recent book is Inside Toyland:  Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality (University of California Press).

Christine has already posted on WIP three times as a guest contributor, on upgrading jobs in the retail industry, gender and intersectionality, and the financial crisis and graduate research in sociology.  Her first post as a regular contributor, she discusses how irregular work schedules operate as a mechanism to reproduce gender and racial inequality in the workplace.

by Chenoa Flippen

Immigration from Latin America to the United States has surged in recent decades, and along with it the entry of immigrant women into the U.S. labor market. Understanding how immigrant Latinas are faring in the U.S. economy requires more than just adding women to models that were designed to explain the experiences of immigrant men. Instead, this understanding requires us to move beyond treating gender, legal status, and family structure as mere variables to be controlled for and to think more deeply about how the various constraints on women’s work interact with one another.

Drawing on original data on immigrant women residing in Durham, NC, one of the “new” destinations that has sprung up around the country in recent decades, I explore the determinants of whether or not immigrant Latinas work, and if so, how well they are able to maintain steady, full time employment. Results show that immigrant Latinas are highly concentrated in a handful of immigrant-dominated occupations, and there is little evidence that women with greater education or work experience are able to get better jobs.

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