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Labor Market Volatility and Worker Financial Wellbeing: An Occupational and Gender Perspective

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Research on labor market experience does not explain the link between the volatility low-wage workers encounter and their earnings and it leaves open numerous pressing questions, such as what, if anything, can be done to reduce racial and ethnic differences in economic well-being.

One emerging but underexplored factor that is likely to contribute to group racial earnings disparity is unstable work schedules. This is often detrimental for hourly workers when volatility is frequent, involuntary, or unanticipated. Using data from 2005-2022 monthly Current Population Survey and its panel design, this study follows a group of hourly workers across a four-month period to assess whether labor market volatility relates to their financial well-being, focusing on low-wage care and service occupations as well as female workers and workers of color. The findings are threefold: In general, during economic expansion periods, nonwhite workers often benefit more in terms of wage growth compared to their white counterparts. Second, net of other characteristics, on average, greater volatility is associated with lower earnings, and this is mostly driven by those holding jobs in low-wage service sectors and healthcare support roles. Last, the earnings consequences of volatility vary significantly by the type of low-wage jobs a worker holds and their gender and race, but this is only true when volatility happens in a job. Specifically, when working within the same employment spell, female workers, particularly those of color and those working in low-wage service and care jobs, earn significantly less when facing greater volatility than their male counterparts or those working in non-service, non-care occupations.