Balancing Act: Low-wage jobs take toll on families

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The holiday season begins anew, chaotic and redundant, moving into full gear for those of us lucky to have jobs and cash to spend. At some point this season, you will hand your money to a cashier or salesperson and then you will head home exhausted.

Most of us really aren't in the habit of thinking much about those workers' home lives. Why should we? We want good deals, low prices and bargains galore. But what we may not realize is that low prices and the jobs that support them are coming at a cost to our future generation.

Today, 1 in 6 U.S. adolescents faces higher risk of obesity, dropping out of school and getting pregnant as teens because their parents are working low-wage jobs. It's not just the low pay that creates problems: Many of these parents work unpredictable and inflexible schedules that conflict with family time and homework supervision. These mothers and fathers get stuck in jobs that lack advancement, stability and benefits such as health insurance, paid sick leave and vacation days.

Kids pay the price when Mom and Dad can barely afford groceries, let alone an after-school program, or to stay home with a sick child.

"Simply having a job is not enough for parents to ensure a successful future for their kids," said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts who -- along with Boston College sociologist Lisa Dodson -- authored a newly released report called, "How Youth Are Put at Risk by Parents' Low Wage Jobs."

Most Americans at all income levels say they struggle with work and family conflict. But we are increasingly discovering that when parents aren't able to be there for their kids in the way they want or need to be, the results are ugly.

Mr. Albelda's report finds that children in households headed by a low-income worker are being raised with a minimum of parental supervision, lack of routine and often are being forced to assume responsibilities they are not mature enough to manage. The early onrush of adult responsibility often takes a toll on the kids' health and, particularly when they drop out of high school.

"Employers are just not seeing that their focus on profits is short term," said Daniella Levine, founder and CEO of Catalyst Miami, a nonprofit that uses civic engagement to improve health, education and economic opportunity for Miami-Dade residents. "By not investing in their employees, they are not investing in their future workforce or future customers."


Cindy Krischer Goodman:


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