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College of Social Work

Kim focuses on underemployment for vulnerable workers

Many Americans can’t make ends meet. Their jobs don’t match skill levels, their qualifications or their availability to work. Employers can reduce benefit and retirement costs for part-time workers.  

This phenomenon is known as underemployment and is the focus of a new research grant for College of Social Work assistant professor Jaeseung Kim. The grant, recently awarded by WorkWise, a research network, will allow Kim to study employment and the workforce.

Kim’s grant funds an 18-month study titled “Underemployment in the U.S.: Its Distribution and Effects on Workers”. As a co-principal investigator Kim will research with principal investigator Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics at Penn State Abington.

"Underemployment escalated to record levels during the spring of 2020 and recovered only gradually but remains largely under-the-radar and under-researched in terms of its potential disparate impact and harms to such workers’ health, particularly on already vulnerable workers,” said Kim.  “These could be better addressed with innovative policies."

Kim and Golden’s research is intended to paint a detailed portrait of underemployed workers and document the various consequences when workers are employed but have inadequate weekly work hours, specifically those who work only part-time for involuntarily reasons. The collaborators will use two large national surveys as data sources to illustrate the incidence of underemployment before, during and after the pandemic, highlighting disparities by demographics and occupations.

According to Kim, the research will also reveal the extent to which underemployment and its health and economic outcomes are reinforced by exposure to poor quality work hours and scheduling practices, such as erratic workweeks, last minute shift cancellations or a lack of control over their own number of hours.  

The project is one of 22 funded by WorkRise, hosted by the Urban Institute, which awarded a total of $2.4 million in research grants to strengthen economic security and mobility for workers earning low wages in the U.S. labor market, addressing equity gaps affecting Black workers and other workers of color, immigrants and women. 

Read the full announcement from WorkRise here:

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