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Katherine Miller, a 21-year-old student at Indiana University, doesn’t know what her week looks like until about 1 a.m. Sunday morning. That’s when the ice cream shop she works at emails out the weekly schedule, which switches up every week.
Miller, like many American workers, has to deal with erratic and irregular work hours every week, leaving her social life and schoolwork schedule up to “fate,” she says.
“I have to wait until the schedule comes out to make plans, and I have to sometimes plan way in advance if I wasn’t to do something, but being in my early 20s a lot of stuff pops up out of the blue,” Miller says. “It’s also very stressful because I don’t know actually know how much I’m working since hours vary so much, so I never know how much I’m making. My bills are consistent, but my hours are not.”
A study last year from the Economic Policy Institute revealed that around 17% of the American workforce is stuck with unstable work shift schedules, and the consequences are devastating on workers’ relationships and stress levels. While less than 11% of workers on “regular” work schedules reported that they “often” experience work-family conflict, as many as 26% of irregular and on-call shift employees did, according to the study.
Part-time, young workers are particularly plagued by erratic work schedules, according to a study from the University of Chicago. The study revealed that over a third of “early career” employees are given a week or less advance notice of their schedules, and that short notice of work scheduling is more common among part-time workers (47%) than full-time workers (39%).
More and more cities and states are beginning to take note of how much of a burden inconsistent hours are.
In 2014, San Francisco enacted the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, which restricts employers’ ability to enforce unpredictable and “last minute” schedules. The move prompted 18 different states and cities to introduce similar legislation in 2015, according to a new paper from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
Seattle is the latest city to confront erratic scheduling. Under the city’s “secure scheduling proposal,” retail and food companies with over 500 employees globally would be required to compensate workers with “predictability pay” if they’re scheduled to work but don’t get called in or get sent home early, as well as post workers’ schedules two weeks in advance, among other measures.
Companies are also ramping up efforts to stabilize hourly workers’ schedules. Last month, retail giant Walmart began testing a scheduling system that would give employees more control over their hours. Under the new system, some employees would be able to have a fixed scheduled for up to 6 months, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Whether smaller and local retailers and food establishments—the ones that are prevalent in college towns–will take Walmart’s lead and test out more stabilized schedules for part-time workers has yet to be determined.
College students in particular–who often times hold down part-time jobs with irregular hours at places like retail stores, restaurants and bars—would benefit from more predictable work schedules. Grappling with mounting schoolwork and demanding extra-curriculars, while stuck with inconsistent work hours, is a lot for a twenty-something college student to juggle.
“Challenges (I face) would be not being able to set aside time for schoolwork, staying in shape and making plans with friends,” says Sophie Mascari, a 22-year-old front desk receptionist at a hotel in Bloomington, Indiana, whose schedule changes every 2 weeks. “An inconsistent schedule makes the rest of life’s responsibilities inconsistent.”
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