Author: Oliveria Perkins
“Megan Conway’s part-time waitressing job was great for extra money when she was a college student, but now with a degree and $40,000 in student loans, she thought she would have a full-time, professional job by now.
Conway is considered an involuntary part-time worker, or someone who really wants full-time work.
Recessions often give rise to more involuntary part-timers as employers cut back workers’ hours and on hiring of full-timers. But during recoveries, the ranks of such workers usually drop. However, during this recovery, their numbers have remained stubbornly high, though the unemployment rate has dropped.
“It has definitely made me a little angry,” Conway said of being unable to land a full-time professional job. “I feel that I did everything right. I networked. I even took an unpaid internship to get experience. I am a hard worker.”
At least two issues have pushed the plight of part-timers into the foreground. One is the discussion about whether the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, also know as Obamacare, is leading to more part-time workers. The act requires employers to provide health care to many employees averaging at least 30 hours a week. Critics of ACA say employers are only hiring part-timers as well as reducing the hours of an increasing number already on their payrolls to avoid providing medical insurance.
The second issue has to do with the proliferation of part-time jobs. Three out of four jobs created between December 2012 and July 2013 were part time, according to the federal Current Population Survey. The Labor Department defines part-time as working fewer than 35 hours per week. Some of these part-timers, like Conway, are recent college graduates who have had to resort to working menial jobs. She has been looking to work in the nonprofit sector since graduating in 2009 with a degree in that field. However, Conway is happy to have her job at a chain restaurant. Since she has been there several years, Conway makes more than minimum wage, and she has benefits.
Even more of these involuntary part-timers are those who once held full-time jobs, said Rebecca Glauber, a University of New Hampshire professor who recently published a paper on the topic.
“A lot of people lost their jobs during the recession, and if they were finding jobs, they were only finding part-time jobs,” she said.
Glauber found that the involuntary part-time employment rate more than doubled between 2007 and 2012. For women, it rose from 3.6 percent to 7.8 percent. For men, it went from 2.4 to 5.9 percent.
She found it was the largest five-year increase in involuntary part-time employment since the 1970s.
The share of the employed working part time was about 17 percent in 2007, said Rob Valletta, research advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, who just co-authored an Economic Letter about the increase in part-time work. By 2009, that figure had increased to nearly 20 percent, and has remained at that level. The recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.
While the share has remained constant, the demographics of these workers have changed. Valletta said they — like Conway — are now more apt to be the “prime” working age group of 25-to-54-year-olds. In the past, part-timers were more likely to come from the smaller pool of 16-to-24-year-olds.
“Many in the pool of prime workers, perhaps are very experienced and can only find part-time work,” he said. “Many have families to support, creating a source of hardship. One can argue that this shift can be obscured because the overall amount of part-time work occurring in the economy has been stable.”
Frederick “Rick” King worked about a decade at the family-owned chain of local music stores where he sold software and keyboards until the business closed about five years ago. He now works part-time at a chain drug store, a position he has held about a year.
“Most of the jobs being generated in this economy aren’t for adults like me with a decent work history,” King said. “I’m almost 50 years old, I don’t want to wait tables. That is for someone in high school or college who can survive on a part-time job.”
Most of the jobs created during the economy have either been higher paying ones, like nursing or other professions requiring specialized degrees or training, or they have been lower-paying jobs, like many in food service and retail that often are part-time.
“There has been a hollowing out of the middle,” Glauber said. “Involuntary part-time employment appears to be strongly correlated with economic vulnerability and hardship.”
Glauber found that in 2012, one in four of these workers lived in poverty; while only one in 20 of full-time workers did.
King said he doesn’t make enough to support his family. They are only making it because his check is combined with that of his 23-year-old son, also a part-time worker and a disability check a younger son receives. He said a disability keeps his wife from working.
King’s hopes rose recently when he applied for a full-time position at his company. The job went to someone else.
Structural or short-term changes?
More than 8.2 million people were considered involuntary part-time workers in July, virtually unchanged from a year earlier, according to the Labor Department. Nearly 2.6 million wanted full-time work, but couldn’t find it. The remaining became part-timers after employers cut back their hours.
The combined trends of the ranks of part-time workers not dwindling, 75 percent of the newly created jobs being part-time and the economy creating relatively few mid-level jobs, have caused many to question whether structural changes are occurring to the labor market. Will part-time work supplant a substantial number of full-time jobs?
“There may be a structural component to elevated part-time employment, but it is still too soon to tell,” Valletta said.
He believes lasting changes are unlikely. Valletta said such high rates of part-time workers have occurred before. In 1983, the share of people working part-time was slightly higher than the most recent peak, which fell back then as the economy improved.
“No one would argue that the labor market is anywhere recovered,” he said of the current recovery. “The elevated level of part-time work is just a reflection of this, and will likely get reversed over the next few years.”
Valletta said part-time employment had dropped among some demographic groups, including married women between 25 and 54, with more than a high school diploma. Less educated workers haven’t seen the same decreases.
Glauber also believes an improved economy is essential to lowering involuntary part-time work. But she said that will only happen for many of these workers if the recovery revs up instead of just creeps along as it has been doing.
The case of adjunct faculty may offer a point to ponder about the proliferation of part-time employment. Long before the recession, colleges and universities began hiring adjuncts in lieu of creating tenure track positions. On many campuses they make up a substantial portion of the teaching staff.
David Wilder, an adjunct art history and art professor, is a committee co-chair in the Ohio Part-time Faculty Association, an advocacy group. Since the recession, college enrollment has increased, but he said that hasn’t led to more permanent opportunities for these part-timers. He said reversing the trend of colleges favoring the creation of more part-time positions, has been difficult to reverse. Having even a chance at tenure has become an elusive goal for these instructors.
“It is said that the longer you spend teaching as an adjunct, the less chances you have of full-time employment,” Wilder said.
“A perverse moral system seems to have been fostered that views with suspicion those who’ve gone a long time without being hired on a full-time basis,” he said. “This is despite the fact that a few decades ago, faculty acquiring tenure was fairly common.”
Obamacare appears to be a factor in adjuncts at some institutions getting fewer hours. In April, the University of Akron decided to limit part-time instructors to eight credit hours per semester to avoid increasing health care costs. Officials said about 400 part-time faculty were typically teaching more than eight credit hours, and providing health care to them would be nearly $4 million.
Is Obamacare leading to more part-timers?
Several experts say what happened at the University of Akron doesn’t appear to be the norm.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., analyzed the number of hours people worked for the first half of this year to determine if employers were cutting workers back to under 30 hours to avoid paying health care.
He and Helene Jorgensen found that the percentage of workers putting in 25 to 29 hours was up, but so were those putting in 30 or more hours. The only drop was in those working 20 hours or fewer.
“There is some rise in the share of workers working 25 to 29 hours,” Baker said. “The reason is not that they are being cut from longer hours. The reason is there is a gain in the 25 to 29 category at the expense of workers working shorter hours.”
Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow in the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., said it is premature for employers to make decisions now about cutting workers’ hours to avoid penalties, since implementation of that provision of the ACA has been put off until 2015.
“There is a lot of complexity to this law, and there is a lot of misinformation,” she said. “A lot of employers don’t understand what is going on.”
Employers who don’t provide health care for employees working an average of 30 hours per week or more could be subject to a $2,000 fine, but only if certain conditions are met.
For example, the law only applies to employers with at least 50 employees. Companies that don’t now offer coverage to these 30-hour-plus workers are the only ones that might be affected. Blumberg said the “vast majority” of larger companies now offer coverage to at least some of their workers, and many already offer coverage to many part-timers. For the most part, a company would only incur penalties for not providing coverage to employees between 138 and 400 percent of poverty. And only if at least one of the employees in that income group gets subsidized coverage through the new insurance marketplaces, or exchanges.
Blumberg said the many media reports and blog posts that have focused on Obamacare leading to more part-time work miss a key issue about running a business.
Tiffani Lanier went to Millennia Cos. in Independence believing that she had only signed on for a temporary assignment helping to reorganize files. Still, she was conscientious.
Cheryl Wszeborowski, the human resources and payroll director at the housing management company, took notice.
“We are a growing company, creating new positions frequently,” she said. “So when I find someone who has a great attitude and who is willing to learn, I will work hard to find a full-time position in our company for them.”
Lanier was permanently hired as an accounting clerk. She wanted full-time work when she took the temporary assignment. Lanier said she is glad she didn’t turn it down.
“Even if it is a part-time or temporary position, there is nothing wrong with trying it,” she said. “If I hadn’t accepted it, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Valletta of the San Francisco Fed said high numbers in the part-time pool often point to a skills mismatch between job seekers and available openings.
King, the drug store part-timer, said that after being laid off from the music store he got an Associates degree in graphic arts, but hasn’t been able to get a job in the field because of limited openings. He still holds out hope that he will.
Conway, the part-time waitress, said she still has a passion for nonprofit management. However, after dozens of interviews and no job, it was time to reconsider her career choice. Conway remembers being upbeat when she got an interview for a part-time volunteer coordinator’s position. She was told 400 people had applied.
She didn’t get the job.
“It was kind of getting ridiculous,” she said of the several jobs for which she was a finalist. “I kept being told: ‘You’re a great candidate,’ but I wasn’t getting hired.”
Conway is now studying to become a registered nurse.
“I know only two people my age who have like amazing jobs — and they are in health care,” she said. “Everybody else is struggling.”