Daniel Schneider, who recently joined Harvard as a professor of public policy and professor of sociology, focuses his research on demography, inequality, and the family. The Shift Project, which he co-directs, uses innovative data collection to examine the impact of precarious and unpredictable work schedules on the economic security, health, and wellbeing of American workers. Schneider, who received his doctorate in sociology and social policy from Princeton University and previously taught at the University of California-Berkeley, will be teaching Proseminar on Inequality and Social Policy II (SUP-922) in the fall.
Q: How do your research and teaching connect to the solution of pressing problems in the world today?
My research and teaching these days is focused on the precarious working conditions faced by millions of American workers—especially those in retail, food service, grocery, fulfillment, and other sectors now recognized as “essential.” A key challenge for these workers is low wages. But my work draws on new data to show that hourly workers also contend with unstable and unpredictable work schedules—with hours that vary from week-to-week and day-to-day, often with little advance notice and less worker control. These unstable and unpredictable schedules put households at risk for economic insecurity and hardship, harm workers’ mental health, and pose profound challenges for parents and their kids. Cities and states have begun to regulate these scheduling practices, with laws such as Seattle’s secure scheduling ordinance requiring that employers provide at least two weeks’ advance notice of schedules to workers. We’re working to evaluate the effectiveness and consequences of these policies.
Q: What do you want students of public policy to take away from your teaching?
I’m looking forward to teaching courses on social inequality and on work and employment. My training as a student and a researcher has always been multi-disciplinary. My undergraduate degree is in public policy, my PhD is in sociology and social policy with an emphasis in demography, and I did a post-doc in health policy. My goal as an instructor is for that multidisciplinary perspective to come through in my courses. When we combine how demographers think about family inequality, how sociologists think about neighborhoods, and how economists and industrial relations scholars think about work, we get a much richer and more complete picture of the scope of policy problems and the possibilities for change.
Q: How has COVID-19 changed your work?
Well, like so many of us, COVID-19 has really brought home to me how tenuous my control over work-life conflict really is! With two young kids out of school and a cross-country mid-pandemic move, this has been far from my most productive summer. But I am very fortunate to be able to continue and redirect my work to study the profound challenges that essential front-line workers are facing during COVID-19. We’re doing that in a few ways. First, we’ve been taking a close look at essential workers’ access to paid sick leave, showing which companies provide these crucial benefit and which firms fall short. Second, we’re tracking how companies have responded, by providing sufficient PPE or augmenting paid sick time. Third, we’re following a cohort of workers who were working in the service sector in 2019, right before COVID-19, to understand how the pandemic has affected their work, their households’ economic security, and their families’ health and wellbeing.
Q: How do you plan on connecting with your students and the HKS community while we remain remote?
I’m normally an open-door office person and am looking forward to meeting members of the HKS community in person once it is safe to do so. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to welcoming interested HKS students to our monthly Shift Project team meetings to learn more about our work and how students might get involved.
Banner photo by Vanna Phon; faculty portrait by Martha Stewart