Editor's Note: This article is part of a series in partnership with the All of Us Research Program, which collects and studies health data to help scientists identify health trends. More than 80% of participants are from groups that have been historically underrepresented in research.

 

Job types and work environment have an impact on health in minority communities. Worries about job security, lower income levels, and lack of sick leave can also be obstacles to keeping healthy.

Studies show white people are more likely to have white collar jobs and African American people are more likely to have blue collar jobs. Besides lower wages, blue collar work often comes with less say over your work environment and the kind of tasks you have to do. Both affect your health.

"It's in jobs where you have the least control and the most repetition that you encounter the most risk," says Natalia Linos, ScD, executive director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.
For example, shift work can lead to lack of sleep and fatigue. When you're paid by the hour, the more you work, the more money you make. This often leads to working long hours, either because you need the income or because your employer doesn't give you a choice.

Fatigue from working long hours can raise the chances of work-related accidents. Research shows that non-Hispanic Black workers and Hispanic workers tend to work in jobs with the highest risk of injury, which often leads to disability and worse health over time.

Some types of work can also have an impact on mental health. "A job like security guard, or cashier at a fast food place where you spend hours on your feet, either observing or going through the same motions -- it's the boredom and the lack of control that can lead to mental health challenges," Linos says.

One organization that looks at the link between life circumstances and health is the All of Us Research Program. Through its surveys and focus on participants' lifestyle and community -- which includes where people work, live, and play -- the All of Us Research Program aims to uncover patterns that emerge through their environment.

Lack of Paid Leave

Members of minority groups are more likely to have jobs that don't offer paid leave. This directly affects a worker's health, but it also has an impact on the community as a whole, says T. Gonzales, the director of the Center for Health Equity at the Department of Public Health and Wellness in Louisville, KY. 

"We have millions and millions of people working across the country who don't have access to even one day of paid sick leave," Gonzales says. It's common for these workers to go to work sick, Gonzales says, because without pay, they can't afford food or rent.

"And that's not just bad for them, it's also bad for the public they interact with and the colleagues they work with," Gonzales says. "It's a very real way in which the whole is made more vulnerable because individuals cannot receive care."

'Time' Poverty

Your job can make you "money" poor, but it can also make you "time" poor. Having too many things to do and not enough time to do them can lead to worse health and lower productivity.

"If you're working a job that doesn't pay well and therefore need two or three jobs to make ends meet, and you're commuting long distances because housing is expensive where you work, and you're navigating public transportation, and so forth, then you have something called time poverty," Linos says.

Public health messaging around disease prevention and well-being focuses on healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, preparing healthy meals, and lowering stress. But Linos says these tips fall short for people who spend most of their time working or commuting to work.

"There's this implication that people can go home, cook a healthy meal, go to the farmer's market, but there are real obstacles to these things for many people, some related to money, and some related to time," she says.

Insurance Coverage

Even with the Affordable Care Act, having access to employee-sponsored health insurance plays a role in staying healthy. For some in minority communities, Gonzales says, it can lead to taking any job that will hire, even hazardous, stressful, or lower-paying jobs.

"People do what they have to do in order to work and get paid, and in some cases, get coverage," Gonzales says. "And that leaves them vulnerable to other types of risk."

But Linos and Gonzales say it's important to understand that health isn't shaped only by access to health care.

"I think of it like a tree," Gonzales says. "When we think about diabetes or heart disease or even suicide, all these health outcomes are like the leaves of a tree -- easy to see and measure. But the health of a tree doesn't start in the leaves, it starts in the roots. Transportation, education, employment, income, those are the roots that really shape whether or not the tree has an opportunity to be healthy."

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