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News from EPI 6.4 million Americans are working involuntarily part time: Employers are shifting toward part-time work as a ‘new normal’

A new paper by Penn State economics professor and University of Illinois’ Project for Middle Class Renewal analyst’s Lonnie Golden explains that, since the end of the Great Recession, there has been a structural shift, concentrated in a few key industries, that has led to millions more workers to be involuntarily working part-time hours when they would like to work full-time jobs.

In Still falling short on hours and pay: Part-time work becoming new normal, Golden shows that the number of people working involuntarily part time has increased 44.6 percent since 2007. While many areas of the labor market have recovered from the recession, the chronically higher level of involuntary part-time workers is evidence of an incomplete recovery.

“The increase is almost entirely due to the inability of workers to find full-time jobs, leaving many workers to take or keep lower-paying jobs with less consistent hours to make ends meet,” said Golden. “In several industries, relying more on part-time work seems to have become the ‘new normal.’”

While virtually all industries employ part-time labor, the retail and the leisure and hospitality industries alone accounted for 54.3 percent of the growth of involuntary part-time employment between 2007 and 2015.

Black and Hispanic workers have been relatively more affected by this structural shift. While 3.7 percent of whites work part time involuntarily, 6.8 percent of Hispanic workers and 6.3 percent of black workers have part-time hours but want to work full time.

Besides the frequent lack of sufficient work hours, part-time workers must also navigate unpredictable and/or variable hours, with their work schedules varying from week-to-week at a rate more than double that of full-time workers. Moreover, workers in part-time jobs also suffer from a lower rate of pay and benefits coverage, such as access to health insurance and paid time off. Compared to similar full-time workers, research elsewhere has found that men working part time earn 19 and women working part time earn 9 percent less per hour.

Golden finds that there is no clear association with the implementation of the “employer mandate” in the Affordable Care Act and the time trend in involuntary part-time workers, as the data does not reflect any noticeable increase in involuntary part-time or workers working 29 or fewer hours a week around the dates of its implementation.

Golden highlights policies, such as the “Opportunity to Work” ballot measure passed in San Jose and secure scheduling provisions in Seattle and San Francisco, that could be implemented across the country to improve the quality of part-time positions. These include compensation parity for part-time jobs, reforms to unemployment insurance systems, an employee “right to request” changes in hours and schedules, and laws giving part-time workers priority access to increased hours when available.

“Although there has been a structural shift toward involuntary part-time labor, we can address it with specific policy solutions that will help workers,” said Golden. “We should use every tool in our toolbox to further the economic recovery and help benefit millions of workers with more stable, better-paying job opportunities.”

“Part-time workers face shortages of pay and work hours and deserve policy remedies for their problems,” said EPI President Lawrence Mishel. “They are a sizable and growing share of the workforce. Policymakers need to address their problems.”