Is The World Going Part-Time?

The numbers have it. Here’s the story so far. July's modest gain of 162,000 jobs was the smallest since March. And most of the job growth came in lower-paying industries or part-time work. Moreover, this pattern has been going on for several months now; BLS household survey data indicates that 77 percent of the jobs created year-to-date are part-time.

But BLS household survey data is often volatile, so couldn’t that part-time number just be due to volatility? With respect to the last few months, this part-time spike could indeed be due to volatility, but that still doesn’t explain the longer-term pattern: the percent of U.S. population currently working full-time is the lowest it has been since 1983, a low that was touched only briefly in that year but which now has been sustained for roughly two to three years. Even being careful with the numbers, it would seem that something odd is happening.

There are those who still lay all this at the foot of volatility, believing in a few months these patterns will dissipate. Others speculate that employers are shifting to part-time positions to work around the healthcare benefit requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act. This is particularly likely in the hospitality and restaurant industries and could explain why so far this year, low-paying industries have provided 61 percent of the nation's job growth, even though these industries represent just 39 percent of overall U.S. jobs, according to Labor Department numbers analyzed by Moody's Analytics.

So assuming that some kind of labor shift is going on in favor of part-time work, what does this mean for employers? Companies need to take a good hard look at their workforces and consider questions such as: Are your HR policies in place if a larger proportion of your workforce is part- time? How will it affect the quality of your staff?

Part-time workers may be less loyal to your cause, and often will need to juggle more than one job to make ends meet. How will the full-time staff deal with the increase in part-timers? What will it do to the culture of the organization? Will full-time employees feel demoralized, threatened and pressured to go part time?

The list of considerations is long. At the end of the day, the depressing part is that despite all the conjecture about part-time jobs, the fundamentals showed little to no change in July’s BLS report. We still have some 12 million people officially unemployed in the United States. We have 4.2 million long-term unemployed and 988,000 not looking for a job because they don’t think they can find one.

The positive note — if any — is that staffing firms may find increased demand for part-time jobs if that’s what the market wants.


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MBO Partners

Aassia Haq 08/30/2013 04:33 pm

Thanks for this post. One bright spot is that the official BLS data can't really catch the strong growth of independent work, which is related to but in some ways quite different from those who are forced into part-time roles. Next month on 9/9 MBO will release it's 2013 State of Independence in America report. Anyone following work changes and trend should find it eye opening as it will include the first-ever economic impact data around independent work, a worker segmentation and updated stats on growth trends. It's a good (and not depressing) outlook for what American work will look like in the future both for traditional and independent talent. I'd posit the world is not going part-time. It's going single employer independent, and moving from a jobs mindset to a work-portfolio mindset. We need to help that be a positive evolution. Gene Zaino CEO at MBO has a nice post on this, available here:

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