Part-time employment rising as full-time jobs decline

Many in the Corridor, nation balancing two part-time jobs vs. full-time employment

George Ford
Published: September 1 2013 | 8:45 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 7:52 pm in

Hannah Piper works two jobs to make ends meet — full time at Starbucks in northeast Cedar Rapids and part time at American Eagle Outfitters in Coral Ridge Mall.

"I've tried finding a single full-time job that would pay better and meet our household needs," Piper said. "Unfortunately I really don't have the qualifications that the employers are looking for.

"A lot of it is going back to school, but it's really hard to do that because I would still need to work."

Piper's situation is not that unusual, with many in today's economy working two or more jobs — many of them part time.

Of the 266,000 jobs created in July, 35 percent or 92,000 jobs were full-time positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rest were part time, which have continued to increase since the recession began in December 2007.

Of the 953,000 jobs created through the first seven months of this year, only 23 percent, or 222,000, were full time. That means 731,000 part-time jobs were created over the last 12 months.

Part-timers — defined as those who usually work fewer than 35 hours a week — are the minority of the work force, but their share is continuing to grow.

Persistence

When the recession began, 16.9 percent of those who were employed usually worked part time. Today, the share of workers with part-time jobs is 19.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Part-time employment peaked at 20.3 percent in 1983, slightly above the recent high point of 19.7 percent in 2010. By this standard, the level of part-time work in recent years is not unprecedented, although its persistence during the ongoing recovery is unusual.

And not everyone is happy with part-time work. As Nancy Folbre, University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor emeritus of economics, noted in a New York Times website post on Monday, "The term 'part-time jobs' is beginning to make Americans anxious. Many workers currently in such jobs would strongly prefer — and in many cases desperately need — more hours of employment to pay their bills."

That group who would "strongly prefer" full-time positions grew from 3.1 percent of all workers with jobs in January 2006 to 6 percent, according to a September 2012 Labor Department survey.

The growth in part-time workers is primarily attributed to people who are reluctantly working fewer hours because they can't find full-time employment in a slack economy. Their numbers have grown to 3.4 million since the start of the recession.

The full- and part-time jobs that have been created in recent months primarily have been in the hospitality and retail sectors. While sometimes criticized as paying lower wages and not offering benefits, Piper said Starbucks is an exception.

"Starbucks is really good about benefits," Piper said. "You only have to work 20 hours a week, and you're eligible for benefits.

"A lot of the people I work with are students who would rather be working 20 or 25 hours a week to focus more on school. They're actually working 35 or 40 hours a week because they've got expenses to meet."

The economy plays its part

Scott Brown, owner of Scott's Family Restaurant, 1906 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids, said restaurants typically hire more part-time workers because of the need to coordinate staffing with customer flow.

"If you need 12 people on Sunday and 3 people on Tuesday, you can't afford to hire them full time," Brown said. "During the week, there's just not enough business to warrant hiring full time."

"I have some people who have been with me for many years, and I try to offer them full time hours. You kind of build your staff around your full-time employees because you've developed a relationship with them."

The slow economy has played a key role in hiring and staffing, according to Blane and Joyce Beschta, owners of the 16th Avenue Grill, 3130 16th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids.

"Our sales are lower than they used to be," Blane Beschta said. "Our regular customers are telling us that they don't have the cash flow to eat out as much.

"We haven't cut any jobs, but we haven't hired any extra employees. In the past, half the people who worked for me worked full time, but we just don't need them."

The rise in part-time jobs also has been attributed to employers concerned about the effect of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The law will require any employer with 50 or more full-time equivalent workers to provide medical benefits.

The White House has dismissed that assertion, saying there is no factual evidence that employers are reducing full-time jobs to part-time hours to escape the coming mandate.

But the increase in part-time jobs also is affecting the total number of hours that Americans work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average work week has gone from over 38 hours in 1964 to under 34 hours in 2013 — a drop of almost 12 percent.

Fewer hours and lower pay are cited by labor unions, churches, and other groups supporting strikes by workers at fast-food restaurants who want $15 an hour wages and a greater ability to unionize.

While many people understand that fast-food restaurant employees don't make a lot of money, just how much less they earn than other Americans is spelled out in a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The BLS reported the average hourly pay for non-farm labor was $23.98 in July. For production and non-supervisory workers, the average hourly wage was $20.14.

By contrast, the average hourly wage last year for the nation's roughly 505,000 fast-food cooks was $9.03 an hour. The 2.9 million food preparation and serving workers worked for an average hourly wage of $9.

The average fast food worker, assuming they work 52 weeks without vacation, makes about $12,355 per year. The federal poverty guideline for a single person is $11,490.

 

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