Are Part-Time and Temp Jobs the New Normal?

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Years after the Great Recession, the number of those working part time because they can't find full-time jobs has remained stubbornly high.

Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” may have worked as an anthem for millions of employees in the 1980s, but it’s hardly a fitting song for the elevated number of involuntary part-time workers in the U.S. today.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 7.2 million people were employed as involuntary part-time workers in January. Those are people who are working less than 35 hours a week because their hours were cut back or they are unable to find full-time work.

That’s down from the 9.2 million high in September 2010, 8.6 million who fit that bill in October 2012 and 8 million in January 2013, but still much above the pre-recession number of 4.5 million.

A Kansas City Star story describing the lives of people who juggle several part-time jobs also contained these startling statistics: 

  • More than half of the recent net job creation has been in low-wage retail and restaurant work – two of the leading industries among part-time job providers.
  • “About one-third of American workers are classified as contingent, which means they are temporary, freelance, contract or consulting workers rather than traditional payroll employees.”
  • “Since the recession ended four years ago, the number of temporary jobs has grown by 50 percent, a growth rate that exceeds all other hiring sectors. Temp jobs account for 1 in 5 jobs created since the recession ended.”
  • 1 in 5 jobs are part time.

The job situation sure isn’t what it used to be, when people hired on with a company and kept their job and benefits for decades. Many of those who work part time or are contractors or freelancers aren’t entitled to benefits, so companies save money.

You have to wonder: Is part-time work the new normal in today’s labor market?

No, says the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which looked at total part-time jobs, not just those we mentioned above:

Recent movements and current levels of part-time work are largely within historical norms, despite increases for selected demographic groups, such as prime-age workers with a high-school degree or less. In that respect, the continued high incidence of part-time work likely reflects a slow labor market recovery and does not portend permanent changes in the proportion of part-time jobs.

Some have speculated that the Affordable Care Act encourages employers to hire part-time workers so they can avoid providing them with health insurance mandated under the act. But it appears that Obamacare is not to blame.

Doug Short, vice president of research at Advisor Perspectives, wrote, “With regard to Obamacare and part-time employment, one thing is crystal clear: The surge in part-time employment was triggered by the recession, not by the Affordable Care Act.”

The Fed agrees:

Before the law was passed, most large employers already faced IRS rules that prevented them from denying available health benefits to full-time workers. These rules gave employers an incentive to create part-time jobs to avoid rising health benefit costs. Moreover, recent research suggests that the ultimate increase in the incidence of part-time work when the ACA provisions are fully implemented is likely to be small, on the order of a 1 to 2 percentage point increase or less.

Have you experienced involuntary part-time employment as a result of the recession? Share your experiences below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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