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Less-educated workers’ unstable employment: Can the safety net help?

In recent decades, workers with less than a college education have faced a “double whammy” of less-stable employment opportunities and a safety net that is increasingly contingent on employment. Beginning in the 1980s, structural changes to the economy—including declines in manufacturing and the influence of labor unions, and increases in health care costs—combined to increase the instability of employment for less-educated workers. Many workers experience unpredictable, variable, and nonstandard hours; temporary or contingent employment; and involuntary part-time positions. Policy changes during this same period—such as welfare reform and expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child care subsidies—made much of public assistance contingent on employment. To examine how the safety net responds to and prevents employment instability, and in some cases inadvertently magnifies the economic challenges of unstable work, the University of Chicago Employment Instability, Family Well-being, and Social Policy Network (EINet) hosted a policy forum on November 15, 2013, which convened researchers, policy administrators, and advocates. In this brief, EINet co-principal investigator Heather D. Hill and University of Chicago scholar Marci Ybarra summarize the discussion and key findings.


Economic Support, Employment, Employment General, Family & Partnering, Family & Partnering General, Labor Market, Low-Wage Work, Means-Tested Programs


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