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Your health and lifestyle trends on low-wage work are about uncertainty

The future of health, food, and lifestyle on a long stretch of low-wage work is uncertainty. Low-wage work limits opportunities to learn new skills needed for better jobs and healthier food and lifestyle choices. New research in the Sacramento and Davis area, "Low-wage Work Uncertainty often Traps Low-wage Workers," by Victoria Smith and Brian Halpin, at the University of California Davis, reveals the precariousness of low-wage employment limits these workers’ time to search for better jobs, learn new skills, take classes or obtain credentials.

Your health on low-wage work points to uncertainty.
Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

If someone can't afford health insurance, for example, and in California, goes on MediCal, are they being told that it's a federal program for low-income, financially needy people, set up by the federal government and administered differently in each state, and that if you someday save up money and buy a house, or marry someone with a secure income, or have money left in the bank when you cross over, the state would try to take away that house and keep most of your assets from your next of kin. The world is full of traps set for low-wage workers or those who find it difficult to earn income and have savings left over for the next generation, let alone for themselves.

And when it comes to choosing healthier foods, unless you're growing your own in season in an urban garden or your yard, if you have a yard, or in a school yard's vegetable patch or your house of worship's garden set aside for growing food, you may not be able to afford fresh produce or other foods other than cheap processed foods such as pasta made with bleached white flour, commercial bread, beans, and various grains or GMO wheat and similar processed cereals. You may not even learn the difference between raw and cooked vegetables as far as what's healthier in the long run.

Low-wage workers know they have to enhance their skills to escape low-wage jobs, but long hours and multiple jobs make skill-building and education nearly impossible, according to a new policy brief released by the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis.

“The very conditions of low-wage work necessitate that workers hold multiple jobs, and that they have to put in long hours if they can,” said Victoria Smith, according to a May 8, 2014 University of California, Davis news release, "Low-wage workers are often trapped, unable to advance." Smith is a UC Davis professor of sociology and a faculty affiliate for the Center for Poverty Research. “People find themselves very caught up, just treading water. The fact that they often are supporting other people heightens their need to take extra hours when they can get them.”

In this ongoing study, Smith and co-author Brian Halpin, a graduate student in sociology at UC Davis, conducted in-depth interviews with 25 low-wage workers in the Napa/Sonoma area in fall 2012. Smith and Halpin asked workers about their current job situations as well as their plans for the future.

All of the interviewees are first-generation immigrants who either grew up in the United States or their home countries

They work in several sectors, including food service, landscaping, domestic work, office cleaning and construction. Notably, some interviewees work in multiple sectors. The study revealed that low-wage work limits opportunities to learn new skills needed for better jobs. To sustain their livelihoods, these workers keep the jobs they have while searching for additional opportunities through relatives, friends and work networks. They patch together multiple full- and part-time jobs to maximize their paid hours.

“In the interviews, workers said they needed the hours, wherever they could get them,” said Smith. according to the news release. “They could come from jobs they have on a regular basis, or it could come from being asked to do one-time jobs working for a friend, like helping with a landscaping job, or helping clean a house. They constantly keep their eyes open for these one-off jobs so they can get their hours.”

Typically, low-wage jobs are part-time with no guaranteed hours, making it difficult for individuals to manage their work and nonwork time effectively

Many employers expect workers to be on-call and available — even for overtime — without advance notice. This makes it extremely difficult to take advantage of educational and training opportunities, which require scheduled attendance. Smith and Halpin argue that introducing living wages and other worker protections could create more possibilities for workers to support themselves and their families while potentially freeing up time to develop their human capital. They say this could also increase efficiency and productivity for the economy as a whole.

“The American dream is about reaching the middle class and having a reasonable standard of living to support our families,” said Smith. “If people are cut out from being able to participate in that middle-class dream, it threatens the social fabric of society.”

The full policy brief is available at:

About the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research

The Center for Poverty Research is one of three federally designated centers whose mission is to facilitate and disseminate nonpartisan academic research on poverty in the U.S. and to train the next generation of poverty scholars. Its research agenda focuses on labor markets and poverty, children and intergenerational transmission of poverty, the nontraditional safety net, and immigration. Find the center online at the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research website.

Which is better for your teen child's lifestyle and health: sports, music, or career-related preparation activities?

New research, "Adolescent male hazardous drinking and participation in organized activities: Involvement in team sports is associated with less hazardous drinking in young offenders," published online May 16, 2014 in the journal Criminal Behavior and Mental Health (Wiley) aimed to find the relationship between participation in organized sports and an increase in hazardous drinking. Unlike previous research, the study focused on an underrepresented group – young offenders – adolescents who were either excluded from school or involved with the justice system.

Ninety-three British male young offenders from a local Youth Offending Team participated in the study, as well as 53 non-offenders from local schools. Both groups had similarly low socioeconomic status. Participants were asked to partake in a Youth Self Report, a questionnaire that measured behavioral problems and competencies as well as recorded levels of involvement in organized sports.

Fewer offenders participated in an organized sport than non-offenders

Approximately 70 percent of young offenders reported not having participated in any sport or activity. The young offenders group had a significantly higher prevalence of hazardous drinking as compared to non-offenders; this finding contradicts earlier studies that state that participation in team sports indicates an increase in hazardous drinking. The study also highlighted a decrease in drinking for young offenders who participated in a sport. A possible avenue to decrease drinking would be to ensure that youth offenders have better access to organized sports.

"Many young people benefit from participating in fun, structured activities outside of school. However, more vulnerable youngsters, such as young offenders, are less likely to participate even though their engagement in team sports could have positive impacts on their health-related behaviors, including the extent that they misuse alcohol. It is important that the most vulnerable in our community are able to access and enjoy sporting activities," author Britt Hallingberg, stated, according to the May 19, 2014 news release, "Teens who participate in sports show lower levels of hazardous drinking."

Some parents who are wary of head injuries that could lead to permanent brain damage in young people playing sports might bring teenagers to participate in music programs such as band, music lessons, or orchestra, or arts and editorial/publishing programs. Others choose sports that aren't frequently involved in resulting head injuries. It's up to what activity best fits the interests of the teenager, including volunteer work and community service or educational programs that lead later to jobs or further education.

Some teenagers enjoy cooking classes where they learn about healthier foods, nutrition, organic farming in urban gardens, or science programs after school. Others enjoy hiking activities, and some kids really enjoy sports of a wide variety.

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