Low-Wage Jobs Increase Harmful Stress

Workers in low-wage jobs experience greater job strain—high demand work paired with low job control—which results in toxic stress and other health harms.

Workers in low-wage jobs are more likely to experience increased job strain from high demand and workload, burnout, or conflict; low control, satisfaction, or support; and an imbalance between effort and rewards (Sara et al., 2018).

These jobs also tend to have higher rates of turnover that result in unemployment, organizational restructuring, and volatility during the economic recession (Nakata, 2012). When workers experience high job strain, this exposure results in chronic or toxic psychosocial stress (Du & Leigh, 2018; Schnall et al., 2016; Ganster & Rosen, 2013). Multiple studies have found that job stress is related to adverse health outcomes, including coronary heart disease (Kivimaki & Kawachi, 2015; Sara et al., 2018), hypertension (Babu et al., 2014; Landsbergis et al., 2013), immune disorders that cause physiological dysregulation (Nakata, 2012), musculoskeletal disorders (van Rijn et al., 2010), poor mental health (Nieuwenhuijsen et al., 2010; Stansfeld & Candy, 2006), and adverse health behaviors (Schnall et al., 2016).

Toxic stress is especially high among day laborers (Martinez et al., 2015), home health aides (Karlsson et al., 2019), hotel housekeepers (Hsieh et al., 2016), and building cleaners (Eggerth et al., 2019). Most day laborers are undocumented Latino men uniquely vulnerable to job strain and psychosocial stress due to structural factors. Because they lack legal authorization to work, undocumented workers often fear losing their jobs or being deported and are often forced to endure poor working conditions or unfair pay (Moyce, 2018; Martinez et al., 2015). Home health aides, which include large proportions of people of color and immigrants, are also susceptible to job-related stress due to physical and verbal abuse from patients (Karlsson et al., 2019). Moreover, a higher rate of home health aides of color than White home health aides indicated experiencing discrimination, a particularly health-damaging form of toxic psychosocial stress (Jang et al., 2017). Among Latina hotel housekeepers, the demands of keeping up with a cleaning schedule along with the mistreatment of workers is a prominent source of stress (Hsieh et al., 2016), which is associated with high blood pressure, especially at the end of the day (Feaster & Krause, 2018). Building cleaners, predominantly Latina, also described job strain related to economic instability, excessive workload, dissatisfaction with management practices, and concerns related to workplace health and safety (Eggerth et al., 2019).

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