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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Trends in Part-Time Employment

Trends in Part-Time Employment

Friday, 04 July 2014 13:56

A Washington Post article on the June employment report yesterday noted the jump in involuntary part-time employment:

"In June, their ranks [the number of people who are working part-time but want full-time jobs] swelled by 275,000 to 7.5 million. In 2007, 4.4 million people fell into this category."

It is important to note the longer term trend here since the month to month movements are highly erratic. The number of people working part-time involuntarily is down by 640,000 from its year ago level and by more than 1.6 million from its peak in 2010.

There are more people voluntarily working part-time, but this is a positive. (These are workers who answer a survey by saying they have chosen to work part-time, less than 35 hours a week.) The number of people voluntarily working part-time typically rises in an upturn, presumably because workers feel they have more choice about jobs and many people would rather work fewer hours to take care of children or other family members or possibly because their own health makes full-time employment difficult. The Affordable Care Act has likely increased the number of people who are working part-time voluntarily since many workers will no longer feel the need to work at a job that provides health care insurance since they can buy it through the exchanges.

Comments (10)Add Comment
According to the WaPo, there are no fluctuations in the economy
written by jhaskell, July 04, 2014 4:47
The really interesting part of the article is the first part of the paragraph from which Baker quotes from:

"But the spike in part-time work since the recession has been largely involuntary. These workers may have had their hours cut or are unable to find full-time jobs, earning them the official designation of “part-time for economic reasons.” In June, their ranks swelled by 275,000 to 7.5 million. In 2007, 4.4 million people fell into this category."

Yes, the initial spike was involuntary, but there are fluctuations in the economy and labor market subsequent to a recession . . . especially 6 years post-recession.
We've had elevated high unemployment for over 6 years
written by ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©, July 04, 2014 6:38
I do not doubt that there are a lot more people working part time, or out of the labor force entirely, than would like to be.

I don't think we should silver coat this post bubble economy. Is it getting better after all six years of Reagan-style trickle-down economics?

Yes. But showering the banksters with money is still a shameful way of fixing the problems caused by our elite financial criminals.

written by watermelonpunch, July 04, 2014 9:43
I'd like to understand the context. Would be nice if a news story gave it.

Employment is up in the warmer months because of the weather and a lot of part-time employment (and full-time hours employment) happens in the summer... so how does this compare to employment just being up because lots of people who'd like to work full-time year round, are taking part-time jobs in seasonal type work? These people might be working part-time & preferring full-time but maybe they weren't working at all. A story like this makes it sound like tons of people had their hours cut, when in reality they may be increased from nothing to part-time. And that would be good news (or better news).
Nonetheless, the number of involuntary part-time is still high
written by An interested observer, July 05, 2014 11:18
Everything in the original post is exactly right. In particular, the number of involuntary part-time workers is highly variable from month to month, casting doubt on the usefulness of monthly or even quarterly changes. Nonetheless, the number of EMPLOYED people who work part-time but want a full-time job has remained stubbornly high through the recovery. From the end of 2007 to the worst months of the Great Recession both the number of unemployed and the number of involuntary part-timers doubled. But while the number of unemployed has fallen and is now only about 20% above the December 2007 level, the number of involuntary part-timers is still 65% above its level at the end of 2007. Clearly, there remain a huge number workers who've had to settle for jobs they would reject if employment opportunities were better and more abundant.
written by urban legend, July 05, 2014 1:02
"The number of people voluntarily working part-time typically rises in an upturn, presumably because workers feel they have more choice about jobs and many people would rather work fewer hours to take care of children or other family members or possibly because their own health makes full-time employment difficult."

This doesn't look entirely correct to me. Eyeballing the data, during the long upswing from 1994 to 2000, it looks like voluntary part-time barely budged at all, in fact declined slightly, and declined someone more as a percentage of the workforce. Involuntary part-time, of course, declined a lot, so total part-time declined quite a lot. The same seems to hold true between 2002 and 2007.

It looks more like the correct statement is that, yes, voluntary part-time becomes a much higher percentage of total part-time during an upturn, but when jobs are really plentiful, those who might say they prefer part-time vote with their feet for full-time and a lot more money.
The Recovery - Top Three Priorities
written by Jesse, July 05, 2014 2:19

Median wage, median wage, median wage.
Dean, Do Yourself a Favor and Watch This Talk By Reich
written by Jesse, July 05, 2014 2:24
He is obviously trying almost too hard to be non-partisan and non-threatening, but his message is pretty much on target.

I can't work part time
written by Dave, July 06, 2014 1:20
I've been trying to work part time for the last decade or so, and it is impossible in my field. My wife and I made the decision to both work part time and both help raise the kids.

It didn't work that way. It is almost impossible to do it. It didn't work for me or her.

Plus, for whatever reason, even when I'm completely normal, some days I need a lot of sleep. No, not due to drugs, alcohol or misbehavior, but we now have some research starting to prove why. On days of very heavy thinking, I wear out my mind and it needs rest.

Yes, I don't fit into full time work. I get as much done in 20-30 hours as most people get done in 40-50. It's just the way it is. But that doesn't matter to anyone.

Excellent talk by Robert
written by Dave, July 06, 2014 3:11
His observation that this divide is about frustration is the most important one. It is correct. I would add to this something else: the issues are actually pretty complex, and the default position when something is complex is to believe that it is better left up to God. If a voter cannot understand the issue and cannot find direct answers to their questions quickly, they just want God to handle it. Given our current 2-party system, one side found a way to dominate that.

There's your explanation.
Not too nonpartizan
written by Dave, July 07, 2014 8:58
Robert was not too nonpartisan.

At first the partisanship on the left was justified. But it has shifted and is no longer justified. The left has gotten downright untrustworthy, most of them. Just as bad as the other side.

People can disclaim Obama, pretend he is a Republican, but he's not. He's really just a politician who cannot lead.

It remains to be seen if Hillary can be a respectable candidate. She lost to Obama for a reason. I'm not sure she can be less of a corporatist than bill, or less of a elite, rich-favoring, bank-loving person as Obama.

We have 2 bad parties. Some us really are done voting for them. It is actually better to let the country continue falling into the abyss. It doesn't deserve our votes.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.