May 2014

Job characteristics among working parents: differences by race, ethnicity, and nativity

Immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities make up an increasing share of the U.S. labor force and child population. Given current disparities in children’s opportunities and intergenerational mobility for children of different backgrounds and the influence parental working conditions can have on children’s development, understanding the distribution of job characteristics and their quality for employed parents from different racial, ethnic, and immigrant backgrounds is important. This article examines 2007–2011 data from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey to determine minority and/or foreign-born parents’ access to jobs that allow them to invest in their children’s development. Specifically, it looks at whether parents’ jobs offer a basic economic security wage, health insurance coverage, and pension plan, because these job characteristics may influence the health, well-being, and resources of working families and children. The analysis reveals that foreign-born, Hispanic, and Black working parents are significantly more likely than U.S.-born, White, or Asian working parents to have a job that pays below the basic economic security wage, does not offer health insurance, and does not offer a pension plan. Foreign-born Hispanic parents in particular are shown to be significantly disadvantaged in the labor market. Findings suggest that without changes to increase parents’ access to jobs with higher wages and benefits, disparities in children’s well-being and development by race and ethnicity and nativity will likely persist.

Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) have documented the dramatic change in the demographic composition of the U.S. labor force over the last 50 years. With higher birth rates and higher labor force participation rates, Hispanics have become an increasingly large share of the workforce, accounting for nearly 9.0 percent of the labor force in 1990, 12.0 percent in 2000, and 15.0 percent in 2010 and are projected to account for 19.0 percent in 20201 and 30.0 percent by 2050.2 The racial composition of the labor force has changed as well. Whites accounted for 78.0 percent of the labor force in 1990, 72.0 percent in 2000, and 67.5 percent in 2010 and are projected to account for only 62.0 percent in 2020.3 Although immigration rates have slowed since 2005, foreign-born adults still comprised 42.0 percent of total labor force growth between then and 2010 and account for 16.4 percent of the total civilian labor force in the United States in 2012 (up from 5.0 percent in 1970 and 9.0 percent in 1990).

Concurrent with the growing diversity of the labor force is an increase in research to investigate whether and how employment trends and job characteristics differ across race and ethnic groups and between foreign-born and U.S.-born populations. Studies that have focused on employed adults have found evidence of a wide variation in the type of employment, occupations, and job characteristics by race and ethnicity5 and nativity.6 Even within education and skill level, wage disparities exist.7 Until recently, much of this research focused on men and on earnings.8 Studies of job quality among working parents from a single race, ethnicity,9 or country of origin10 exist. However, except for two recent reports (which did not undergo peer review) that examine individual job characteristics11 (one by Glynn on unadjusted [bivariate] rates of access to paid leave and schedule flexibility and the other by Clemans-Cope et al. on rates of health insurance by firm size and work arrangement and by race and ethnicity, using the 2005 CPS Contingent Work Supplement), few studies of parental job quality focus on race and ethnicity or immigration. To our knowledge, no large sample studies have been conducted that nationally represent employed parents either by race and ethnicity or by immigration status or that nationally represent foreign-born employed parents by subgroup.

This gap in the literature is important because racial and ethnic minorities and foreign-born persons represent an increasing proportion of not only the adult labor force but also U.S. children.12 In 2011, 43 percent of U.S. children were from a minority group and nearly a quarter lived in families in which at least one parent was born outside the United States.13 Therefore, the working conditions of minority and foreign-born parents will have an increasing influence on the living conditions, and thus the well-being and development, of U.S. children. In a context of substantial disparities in children’s opportunities and achievement,14 understanding the characteristics and quality of jobs held by employed parents and their distribution is critical.


1 Mitra Toossi, “Labor force projections to 2020: a more slowly growing workforce,” Monthly Labor Review, January 2012, pp. 43–64,

2 Mitra Toossi, “Projections of the labor force to 2050: a visual essay,” Monthly Labor Review, October 2012, pp. 3–16, http://www.bls .gov/opub/mlr/2012/10/art1full.pdf.

3 Toossi, “Labor force projections to 2020,” pp. 43–64.

4 Audrey Singer, Immigrant workers in the U.S. labor force (Brookings Institution, March 15, 2012),

5 U.S. Department of Labor, Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2011, Report 1036 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2012),; Arne L. Kalleberg, Barbara F. Reskin, and Kenneth Hudson, “Bad jobs in America: standard and nonstandard employment relations and job quality in the United States,” American Sociological Review, April 2000, pp. 256–278; Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Paid sick day access rates by gender and race/ethnicity, 2010 (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, March 2011),; Raine Dozier, “The declining relative status of Black women workers, 1980–2002,” Social Forces, June 2010, pp. 1833–1857,; Cassandra Moseley, “Ethnic differences in job quality among contract forest workers on six national forests,” Policy Sciences, June 2006, pp. 113–133; Julie A. Kmec, “Minority job concentration and wages,” Social Problems, February 2003, pp. 38–59; and Frederic Blavin, John Holahan, Genevieve M. Kenney, and Megan McGrath, Uninsurance is not just a minority issue: White Americans are a large share of the growth from 2000 to 2010 (Urban Institute, November 2012), See chart, “Employer-provided health insurance and pension coverage, by race and ethnicity, 1979–2010,” in Lawrence Mishel, Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, and Heidi Shierholz, The State of working America, 12th ed., Economic Policy Institute (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012),

6 U.S. Department of Labor, Foreign-born workers: labor force characteristics—2012, news release (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 22, 2013),; Lisa Catanzarite, “Brown-collar jobs: occupational segregation and earnings of recent-immigrant Latinos,” Sociological Perspectives, Spring 2000, pp. 45–75; and Frank D. Bean, Mark Leach, and B. Lindsay Lowell, “Immigrant job quality and mobility in the United States,” Work and Occupations: An International Sociological Journal, November 2004, pp. 499–518.

7 For example, see Gregory Acs and Pamela Loprest analyze the survey of Employers in the low-skill labor market and find differences in wages earned by race and ethnicity but not in access to health insurance and paid leave and present their findings, “Job differences by race and ethnicity in the low-skill job market,” Brief no. 4 (Urban Institute, February 2009),

8 Robert Cherry, Who gets the good jobs? Combating race and gender disparities (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001); and Quincy Thomas Stewart and Jeffrey C. Dixon, “Is it race, immigrant status, or both? An analysis of wage disparities among men in the United States,” International Migration Review, Spring 2010, pp. 173–201.

9 Barbara Taylor, Robert Delcampo, and Donna Marie Blancero, “Work-family conflict/facilitation and the role of workplace supports for U.S. Hispanic professionals,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, July 2009, pp. 643–664; BS Clifford L. Broman, “Work stress in the family life of African Americans,” Journal of Black Studies, July 2001, pp. 835–846.

10 For example, see Kimberly A. Updegraff, Ann C. Crouter, Adriana J. Umaña-Tayulor, and Emily Cansier, “Work-family linkages in the lives of families of Mexican origin,” in Jennifer E. Lansford, Kirby Deater-Deckard, and Marc H. Bornstein, eds., Immigrant families in contemporary society (New York: Guilford Press, 2007), pp. 250–267; and Roger Waldinger, Nelson Lim, and David Cort, “Bad jobs, good jobs, no jobs? The employment experience of the Mexican American second generation,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, January 2007, pp. 1–35.

11 Sara Jane Glynn, Working parents’ lack of access to paid leave and workplace flexibility (Center for American Progress, November 20, 2012),; and Lisa Clemans-Cope, Genevieve M. Kenney, and Aaron Lucas, Health insurance in nonstandard jobs and small firms: differences for parents by race and ethnicity, Brief no. 12 (Urban Institute, April 2010),

12 Karina Fortuny and Ajay Chaudry, Children of immigrants: growing national and state diversity, Brief no. 5 (Urban Institute, October 2011), pp. 1–10,; William H. Frey, America’s diverse future: initial glimpses at the U.S. child population from the 2010 Census (Brookings Institution, April 6, 2011),; and Children of immigrants drive the increase in America’s youth population, but almost half live in low-income families (Urban Institute, September 16, 2010), http://www.urban. org/publications/901382.html.

13 Kenneth M. Johnson and Daniel T. Lichter, “The changing faces of America’s children and youth,” Issue Brief no. 15 (The Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire, Spring 2010),; and Fortuny and Chaudry, “Children of immigrants,” pp. 1–10.

14 Holly Mead, Lara Cartwright-Smith, Karen Jones, Christal Ramos, Kristy Woods, and Bruce Siegel, Racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. health care: a chartbook (The Commonwealth Fund, March 13, 2008),; Donald J. Hernandez and Wendy D. Cervantes, Children in immigrant families: ensuring opportunity for every child in America (Foundation for Child Development, March 2011), gration.pdf, pp. 1–26; Angelina KewalRamani, Lauren Gilbertson, Mary Ann Fox, and Stephen Provasnik, Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic minorities, NCES 2007039 (National Center for Education Statistics, September 2007),; Marla McDaniel, Christina Paxson, and Jane Waldfogel, “Racial disparities in childhood asthma in the United States: evidence from the national health interview survey, 1997 to 2003,” Pediatrics, May 2006, pp. e868–e877; Improving children’s health: understanding children’s health disparities and promising approaches to address them (Children’s Defense Fund, 2006),

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About the Author

Alison Earle

Alison Earle is a senior scientist at the Institute on Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Pamela Joshi

Pamela Joshi is a senior scientist at the Institute on Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Kimberly Geronimo

Kimberly Geronimo is a research associate at the Institute on Child, Youth and Family Policy Heller School for Social Policy and Management Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Dolores Acevedo-Garcia

Dolores Acevedo-Garcia is a professor at and director of the Institute on Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.