Can’t Catch a Break: Intersectional Inequalities at Work

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The labor market is the site of longstanding and persistent inequalities across race and gender groups in hiring, compensation, and advancement. In this paper, we draw on data from 13,574 hourly service-sector workers to extend the study of intersectional labor market inequalities to workers’ experience on the job. In the service sector, where workers are regularly expected to be on their feet for long hours and contend with intense and unrelenting workloads, regular break time is an essential component of job quality and general well-being. Yet, we find that Black women are less likely than their counterparts to get a break during their work shift. Although union membership and laws mandating work breaks are effective in increasing access to breaks for workers overall, they do not ameliorate the inequality Black women face in access to work breaks within the service sector. A sobering implication is that worker power and labor protections can raise the floor on working conditions but leave inequalities intact. Our findings also have implications for racial health inequalities, as the routine daily stress of the service sector takes a disproportionate toll on the health of Black women.

Kristen Harknett, Charlotte O’Herron and Evelyn Bellew, “Can’t Catch a Break: Intersectional Inequalities at Work.” Sociological Science. Volume 11, Number 10 (March 2024): 233-257.