Economic snapshot | Jobs and Unemployment

Positive Jobs Trend: Involuntary Part-Time Work Is Falling, Voluntary Part-Time Work Is Rising

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Part-time work—working less than 35 hours in a week—rose fairly steeply in the recession, but has remained roughly flat for the last five years. Currently, part-time employment makes up 19 percent of total employment, compared to 17 percent before the recession began. What’s going on? To understand, it’s important to distinguish between two kinds of part-timers.

Voluntary part-time workers are people who work part time by their own preference, because they want or need a part-time schedule given other interests or obligations. Involuntary part-time workers are people who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule, because their employer doesn’t give them enough hours or because they can only find a part-time job.

Economic Snapshot

Involuntary part-time work is falling, voluntary part-time work is rising: Full and part-time employment, December 2007–July 2014

Full-time employment Total part-time employment  Involuntary part-time employment  Voluntary part-time employment
2007/12/01 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
2008/01/01 -0.10% 1.30% 4.90% 0.10%
2008/02/01 -0.10% -0.20% 6.10% -0.90%
2008/03/01 -0.20% -0.10% 6.20% -0.70%
2008/04/01 -0.70% 2.50% 13.00% 0.80%
2008/05/01 -0.70% 1.30% 14.50% -0.40%
2008/06/01 -1.00% 2.70% 20.00% 0.00%
2008/07/01 -1.20% 2.20% 28.40% -1.80%
2008/08/01 -1.70% 3.40% 26.70% 0.30%
2008/09/01 -1.60% 2.40% 33.10% -1.40%
2008/10/01 -1.90% 3.10% 44.90% -2.60%
2008/11/01 -2.60% 3.70% 58.30% -3.20%
2008/12/01 -3.70% 6.40% 73.90% -2.80%
2009/01/01 -4.80% 6.60% 74.20% -3.50%
2009/02/01 -5.60% 8.00% 90.50% -3.50%
2009/03/01 -6.60% 9.40% 98.00% -3.90%
2009/04/01 -6.80% 10.20% 92.90% -2.60%
2009/05/01 -7.10% 10.10% 97.30% -3.30%
2009/06/01 -7.30% 11.00% 95.40% -3.80%
2009/07/01 -7.60% 12.10% 92.50% -3.30%
2009/08/01 -7.80% 11.20% 95.50% -4.70%
2009/09/01 -8.30% 10.20% 91.60% -4.90%
2009/10/01 -8.80% 11.00% 94.40% -4.60%
2009/11/01 -8.60% 10.40% 97.40% -6.20%
2009/12/01 -9.10% 11.00% 97.00% -5.70%
2010/01/01 -9.00% 12.20% 84.10% -4.70%
2010/02/01 -8.90% 11.70% 92.80% -6.50%
2010/03/01 -8.60% 11.40% 99.60% -6.50%
2010/04/01 -8.00% 10.60% 98.80% -8.00%
2010/05/01 -7.40% 7.80% 91.30% -8.60%
2010/06/01 -7.40% 7.80% 86.40% -8.50%
2010/07/01 -7.70% 9.10% 85.10% -6.90%
2010/08/01 -8.10% 12.00% 91.20% -5.10%
2010/09/01 -8.00% 11.00% 99.20% -6.40%
2010/10/01 -8.10% 10.50% 92.10% -6.70%
2010/11/01 -8.50% 11.40% 92.30% -5.50%
2010/12/01 -8.00% 10.80% 93.60% -6.40%
2011/01/01 -7.70% 9.00% 82.80% -8.30%
2011/02/01 -7.60% 8.70% 82.00% -6.90%
2011/03/01 -7.60% 10.30% 87.00% -5.60%
2011/04/01 -7.70% 10.30% 87.60% -6.50%
2011/05/01 -7.70% 10.60% 85.90% -5.90%
2011/06/01 -7.90% 11.20% 83.80% -5.70%
2011/07/01 -7.70% 10.90% 80.60% -6.80%
2011/08/01 -7.40% 10.40% 91.00% -7.40%
2011/09/01 -7.50% 11.60% 96.40% -5.90%
2011/10/01 -7.20% 10.80% 87.90% -5.60%
2011/11/01 -6.90% 11.00% 83.10% -5.00%
2011/12/01 -6.50% 9.80% 77.10% -5.20%
2012/01/01 -6.40% 12.50% 78.20% -3.40%
2012/02/01 -6.10% 11.60% 76.10% -3.70%
2012/03/01 -5.30% 9.30% 68.50% -5.10%
2012/04/01 -5.90% 11.10% 71.40% -3.60%
2012/05/01 -6.00% 13.40% 76.20% -0.90%
2012/06/01 -5.70% 12.20% 76.60% -4.10%
2012/07/01 -5.80% 12.20% 76.80% -4.00%
2012/08/01 -5.70% 11.50% 74.20% -3.70%
2012/09/01 -5.20% 12.10% 85.60% -4.20%
2012/10/01 -5.00% 12.60% 78.20% -2.90%
2012/11/01 -5.00% 11.40% 76.80% -4.80%
2012/12/01 -4.80% 11.40% 71.70% -3.70%
2013/01/01 -4.80% 11.30% 72.90% -5.10%
2013/02/01 -4.80% 11.40% 73.00% -3.20%
2013/03/01 -4.70% 11.10% 65.90% -3.90%
2013/04/01 -4.60% 11.30% 71.70% -3.20%
2013/05/01 -4.40% 12.10% 71.40% -3.00%
2013/06/01 -4.50% 13.20% 77.40% -2.60%
2013/07/01 -4.50% 13.90% 77.10% -2.30%
2013/08/01 -4.40% 12.70% 71.00% -1.20%
2013/09/01 -3.90% 10.80% 71.40% -3.20%
2013/10/01 -4.40% 10.00% 73.60% -4.10%
2013/11/01 -3.80% 11.00% 67.20% -3.50%
2013/12/01 -3.60% 10.60% 68.30% -4.20%
2014/01/01 -3.30% 11.30% 57.10% -2.00%
2014/02/01 -3.10% 10.40% 55.60% -2.70%
2014/03/01 -3.00% 11.90% 60.50% -1.70%
2014/04/01 -2.60% 10.30% 61.70% -3.40%
2014/05/01 -2.40% 10.00% 57.40% -2.60%
2014/06/01 -2.80% 13.20% 63.40% 1.70%
2014/07/01 -2.60% 13.40% 62.60% 0.60%
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The figure shows trends in full-time, voluntary part-time, and involuntary part-time work in the recession and recovery (specifically, it shows the growth rate in each type of job since December 2007, the official start of the Great Recession). Both full-time and voluntary part-time work—which both represent jobs people want— fell dramatically through early 2010 and have made slow but steady improvement since then.  Involuntary part-time work—which by definition is something people don’t want—follows the opposite trend.  The trend in involuntary part-time work is more dramatic than the trends in full-time and voluntary part-time work, but they all follow the broad contours of the recession and recovery, i.e. they all deteriorated in the recession and its immediate aftermath and have made slow but steady improvement since then. Full-time and voluntary part-time employment are now generally rising, while involuntary part-time work is now generally falling. The net effect of these two opposing trends in part-time employment is that total part-time employment, after rising in the recession, has been roughly flat in the recovery.

See more work by Heidi Shierholz