The 7.5 Million People Who Can't Find Full-Time Employment

What’s behind the epidemic of involuntary part-time workers?

Aug 10, 2014 at 10:45AM

Flickr / Marcin Wichary.

The Great Recession has left an indelible mark on American workers, saddling the labor market with a historically high number of long-term unemployed and discouraged workers.

But, even among the working, troubles persist. The U.S. currently has 7.5 million persons working part-time involuntarily, simply because they cannot find full-time jobs. For a host of reasons, this state of affairs is not only depressing wages for the affected workers, but is harming the entire American workforce.

Part-time work dilutes jobs figures
The number of those employed part-time for economic reasons – as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them – is disturbingly high, a mere 2.2 million fewer than the number of Americans currently considered unemployed. Part-time work has become a bit of an epidemic in this post-crisis economy, and the effects are obvious on the labor market as a whole.

The average number of hours worked per week in July, for example, was a dismal 34.5 hours for the fifth month in a row, far short of the once-common 40 hours. Pay remains stuck in a rut, too, with hourly pay increasing a measly 2% over the past 12 months.

The plight of the part-timer
It is easy to see why so many part-time workers can bring down average workweek numbers, as well as pay. Part-timers are often in no position to negotiate pay raises, and suffer from wildly fluctuating work schedules that can cause variations of several hours from one work week to the next.

The issue of irregular work schedules has become huge. Employers schedule employees to maximize their profits, often with no input from the affected workers – and very little notice. A recent study shows that nearly half of all part-time hourly workers get a maximum of one week's advance notice of the hours they will be working for the next week. This situation makes it nearly impossible to coordinate more than one part-time job, which many workers may need to help make ends meet.

Incredibly, erratic work schedules can even include "on-call" status for hourly part-time workers, who are not always paid for a minimum of four hours when they are called in to work. The problem has become so severe that several Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee have introduced legislation called the "Schedules That Work Act" to help give employees more say in their workplace scheduling.

A lop-sided state of affairs
The optimizing of work schedules in this way can be a boon to employers, in several ways. Not only does the practice yield immediate, profitable results for individual businesses, but a steady supply of desperate workers helps keep overall wages down, as part-timers can be used to supplement the full-time workforce, as well as help businesses avoid overtime costs.

Considering the win-win situation for employers, there seems little motivation for them to alter their current hiring and scheduling practices. Unless legislation forces a change, the current state of affairs will continue to be a burden for American workers still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.

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