Professional women at law firms, in academia and in the media complain about the punishing hours — and unceasing streams of e-mail — that make it difficult to make time for their families. At the other extreme, many women in retail, restaurant and health care jobs are underemployed; they’re looking for more hours of work (and ideally, regular hours) to support their families.
But both problems share a root cause: the incentives that guide businesses’ employment practices.
Rather than being long and relentless, work hours in hourly jobs, especially low-level ones, are often scarce, fluctuating and unpredictable. Sales associates and restaurant servers might be scheduled for 7 hours one week and 32 the next. Hotel housekeepers might work Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday one week, and then Sunday, Thursday and Saturday the following week. Schedules are often posted just a few days in advance. And women in hourly jobs are likely to have less input than men in determining their work schedules, according to national surveys.
The lack of stability is especially hard on parents. Unpredictable work schedules leave them scrambling to arrange child care and reluctant to volunteer for school events or to schedule doctor’s appointments. They make it tough to establish the household routines that experts tell us are essential for healthy child development, like bedtime rituals, homework monitoring and family meal times. Unstable hours also result in unstable earnings, a nightmare for parents on tight budgets.
It’s just a bunch of poor people whining — again. Why don’t they just borrow some money from their parents and start their own business?