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part-time jobs chart
Chart shows number of Americans working part-time who want full-time jobs.
While there continue to be signs that the economy may be on the verge of moving out of the sluggishness that has afflicted it ever since growth began again in the summer of 2009, the job front remains problematic. We need 250,000 or so new jobs created each month to really make headway in putting the nation back to work again. For the past year the average has been 153,000.

With the housing market coming back in many areas of the nation, which is good news for construction, and holiday retail sales doing better than was predicted just a month ago, that average could be headed up in the next few months. But twice in the past three years, we've seemed on the verge of a period of accelerated job growth that collapsed.

Officially, 12.2 million Americans are out of work, but that number understates the situation, ignoring the 6.5 million who aren't looking but say they want a job. And then there are the underemployed, another nearly 7.9 million Americans working part-time not because they want to but because of economic conditions. Uncertainty about the future, managerial strategizing and technological gains have persuaded many employers not to put workers whose hours were reduced back on full-time status or to hire new full-time workers.

Some of this would change if the economic recovery were to stop muddling along and really take off. But some of this trend seems likely to become more deeply entrenched regardless of economic growth. Just one more example of the corporate profits and earnings of the one per centers taking the lion's share of gains.

As David Jackson at Seeking Alpha points out:

The number of part-time employment (for economic reasons) in the United States was nearly 4.7 million at the beginning of 2008. Currently, the number of part-time employed has surged to 7.8 million.

Therefore, nearly 3 million people have been employed part-time after the recession. Investors and readers might argue that employment is still being generated and income is flowing for 3 million people. I am primarily concerned because companies are skepti[c]al about the economic scenario and any visible decline in economic activity will lead to surging unemployment as part-time jobs are lost. Also, the income generated through part-time employment is relatively lower and does keep the consumer cautious. This is not good for a consumption-driven economy.

We're not talking about people who want to work part time, of whom there are many with an array of reasons. The people getting hurt are those who want a full-time job but can't wrangle one.

Read below the fold to explore part-timers' situation further and take a glance at another harmful job trend ...

Steven Greenhouse has reported on the new phenomenon. Restaurants and retailers have long used part-timers, but these days they depend on them more than in the past to cut costs, escape providing full benefits and responding to customer traffic in more focused ways they couldn't before computerized inventories made it possible:

No one has collected detailed data on part-time workers at the nation’s major retailers. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs. [...]

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. And with work schedules that change week to week, workers can find it hard to arrange child care, attend college or hold a second job, according to interviews with more than 40 part-time workers.

Another matter also is having a tremendous impact on what would otherwise be good economic news, the fact that many jobs that are being created pay less than the jobs that were lost. Laura Clawson wrote Thursday about one of the arenas in which this is a big issue: manufacturing.

That sector of the economy has been a surprising bright spot since the official end of the Great Recession, with more than half a million new jobs. But these have mostly been non-union. The average non-union factory worker made less in 2011, adjusting for inflation, than in 2009. And even union workers, like those in the now thriving auto industry that was on the skids in late 2008, are not doing so well. Entry-level workers at General Motors, for instance, earn about half what their predecessors did six years ago. Writes Clawson:

Proponents of this trend say that becoming a low-wage nation is the way for the United States to compete globally. They try to dress it up, but that's what it boils down to: Let's compete with China for bad pay and long hours. For unions, the rise of low-wage manufacturing once again highlights the importance of improving conditions for workers in even lower-wage occupations like retail and fast food—if you raise standards in these industries, low-wage manufacturing won't look as good by comparison.
Combined, these two trends, coming at a time when changing demographics—baby boom retirements, fewer 16-19 year olds in the job market—do not exactly portend a true recovery from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. They are just more examples of how the acute problems of the Great Recession, many of them still with us, continue to deflect attention from taking action on the chronic ones.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 11:28 AM PST.

Also republished by Unemployment Chronicles and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We can grow rapidly if we want. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quill, a2nite

    We just need to stop worrying about deficits. But since we're not doing that, we're going to either grow slowly or shrink fast.

  •  Higher Ed, too (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LinSea, fuzzyguy, grrr

    More and more full-time professors are being replaced by adjuncts. Parents and students are paying more in tuition, but the teachers are adjuncts making an average of $2500 per class, with no health care or retirement benefits at all. The adjunctification of the American workforce must stop.

    Zen is "infinite respect for all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility for all things future."--Huston Smith's Zen Master

    by Ree Zen on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 11:58:23 AM PST

  •  There, that wasn't so painful now was it? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, Meteor Blades, HeyMikey

    Just a few more socio-economic band-aids left to rip away to eliminate the middle class and then we'll truly be on the road to globalized prosperity, just like China and India!

    "I don't cry over milk spilled under bridges. I go make lemonade" - Bucky Katt

    by quill on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 12:00:49 PM PST

  •  Some things are slowly dawning on me (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grrr, HeyMikey, Meteor Blades

    First, a good Krugman

    The Dwindling Deficit

    in which he states once again that the deficit is not our most pressing problem and that a far more pressing problem is long term un and under employment.

    Our very serious people and our 1% masters want to solve a problem that barely exists but which they continuously blow all out of proportion with the assistance of the media shills and their elected stooges. At the same time they ignore a gigantic, real and urgent issue for the majority of Americans - getting us all back to work and at wages that we can survive on.

    Now, why would "our betters" make choices like this?

    Let's go to the obvious answer - because they want to. It benefits them. They don't care about unemployment and our stagnant wages and declining standard of living because caring about these things DOESN'T benefit them. Do they have to spell it out? They're just not that into us.

    The Job Creators don't care about creating jobs. They never did. If anything they always preferred ELIMINATING jobs in order to pump up profits and productivity even more in order to have MORE dollars to stuff into their own pockets. They care about reducing their taxes. They care about cutting the social safety nets because half of them are sanctimonious Darwinian sociopaths and the other half just want to privatize everything they can get their hands on in order to make MORE MONEY for themselves.

    Is that simple enough? As long as the masses continue to lead lives of quiet desperation and don't bother them and don't actually start dropping dead in public, they can afford to ignore us and sell undiluted crap about deficits to the half of the country that is still barely making it and telling them that if only THEY (the 99%) will sacrifice, everything will be better in some dim future that their grandkids will live in, (because it's always about the (sob!) grandkids and not the immediate horrible stunted existence of their parents and grandparents NOW.)

     And because we validate PT Barnum every day, we don't tell them to shove this unrelenting diet of self-serving Austerity BS up their collective asses, that we're tired of listening to it, and that we are NOT the stupid, docile, golden geese they take us for, and we in fact know the scam that is being played and WE DEMAND BETTER.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 12:38:24 PM PST

  •  250k/mo = recovery by 2020. 153k/mo = 2026. (8+ / 0-)
    We need 250,000 or so new jobs created each month to really make headway in putting the nation back to work again. For the past year the average has been 153,000.
    I know you must be tired of me harping on this. But it's important and the MSM are missing it.

    We need 88,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. If we add 250,000 jobs per month--which would be a great improvement--we'd get back to 2007 levels of employment by mid-2020.

    Adding 153,000 jobs a month would get us back to 2007 levels of employment by 2026.

    Plug in your own number and see the job-recovery graph here:

    We need a new WPA and CCC.

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:47:01 PM PST

  •  We are passively accepting the economy that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Icicle68, peregrine kate

    the work force for the largest tax haven on the planet creates. Look at the service economies of the 60+ "offshore" tax haven archipelago, and you can see that ours is re-configuring itself to be like those.

    Sure, we make stuff. But not enough yet.  We need to hold these companies hostage until they commit to their home "domiciles" and charter origin. We need to demand human skills training centers -- ag, construction trades, etc. -- unions know how to teach the trades.

    Our human resource infrastructure is crumbling...we have to seize it and make this country in the workers' image. Then the money and jobs will return.

    The cost will be great, but a separate People's Banking Entity can establish a Public Trust, which pays for what the last four Congresses have refused to pay for.

  •  It's exactly what they want (7+ / 0-)

    "They" being the bosses - a whole bunch of workers competing for crappy jobs that they desperately need.  No talk-back, more compliance, and if you have to can somebody, there's a line out the door of folks willing to take his place.  

  •  Predictable result of ACA kicking in (0+ / 0-)

    Simply put, Obamacare incentivizes part-time jobs.  This was entirely predictable.

    The absolute worst time ACA could be kicking in is at the end of a recession like this, when the full-time job market should be heating up.

    More and more jobs will be made part-time and/or outsourced to third party providers.

    There are many employers whose profit margins simply would not allow them to keep the employees full-time.  And even if an employer wanted to and wanted to pass on the costs to the consumer, his/her competitors will take advantage of the law and cut their employee's hours to avoid the penalty or avoid purchasing insurance.

    This (among many other things) was probably to biggest flaw in the way ACA was set up.  It should have been a universal payroll tax that ALL employees paid with some employer paid match.  But, as it is, we are left with a mess and a stagnating job market for years to come.

    ACA also encourages outsourcing jobs to foreign workers like nothing else in years.  Just when foreign workers were becoming competitive with American workers and we could see bringing some of those jobs back, ACA makes foreign workers look rather attractive once again.

    •  it should have been single payer (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      midwesterner, Bon Temps

      but with the insane Republican Congress Posse and their Democratic Party enablers, it's  hard to imagine something sensible ever getting passed

      •  Yes.. single payer would have been preferable (0+ / 0-)

        but not necessary.

        If you want a really good model for an alternative to single-payer, look at Medicare and the supplemental market.  It is really a hybrid single-payer/private insurer system.

        The base benefits could have been modest.  Part A & B covering different services.

        Supplemental could have covered the rest, perhaps with assistance to low-income families toward the supplemental insurance.

        Private insurers would have gladly taken on the administration as a way to get people to purchase their supplemental coverage.

        There really is nothing good about ACA.

  •  Another jobless recovery. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rhauenstein, StonedontheSofa

    The current economy is a perfect confluence of the neoliberal and neoconservative ideas of freedom that leave the real economy in shreds.

    •  Neo con and lib ideas of freedom include (0+ / 0-)

      big business should be free -- of govt regulations (that were designed to protect society from illegal and predatory acts. Regs like Glass-Steagall )

      Markets should be free -- to find the cheapest labor. (NAFTA)

      People should be free  -- from govt rules and safety nets. (OSHA, unemployment benefits, SS/MC, etc)

      The Neo's idea of freedom is small and self-interested and doesn't pass the real-world test.

  •  Great Post. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Teasing out the differences between the effects of the recession and longer-term, structural forces in the economy is a very important exercise.

    Art is the handmaid of human good.

    by joe from Lowell on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 02:53:17 PM PST

  •  This year (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    marks my 11th here.  And my 10th posting about globalization.

    Take a look at the BLS projections the jobs most likely to grow over the next 10 years: very few require college degrees.

    Alan Blinder wrote years ago about the enormous impact of offshoring, and since then it has driven technology related spending in reaction - both are killing jobs.

    And here is the simple truth - in my reading no one really has an answer - spending on infrastructure isn't going to come close to filling the gap.

    What amazes me is how AWOL the left is on this issue and how little actual creative thought there is about it.

    The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

    by fladem on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 02:55:23 PM PST

  •  Employment is a side effect of our economic system (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and not the driving force, which is growth of corporate wealth. Labor is necessary to achieve some of this growth, so people are employed, but preferably (according to the logic of the system) at the lowest cost possible for the level of skill required, which is why we see things like the growth in bad jobs and outsourcing of even high skill work like IT to lower wage areas. This is why we need policies that operate against this logic -- like protection union rights, both here and in the developing world, and regulation of cross-border investment.

    Whether the current economic system can be sufficiently regulated to achieve full employment with "good jobs at good wages" is debatable. But there's no question that, left left to its own devices, our economy will tend to produce crap jobs.

  •  There may be seismic shifts in the labor market (0+ / 0-)

    I have been tracking the emergence of the online eLancing market for several years. Most of the market is handled by 4 big sites (there are many smaller ones):

    I have hired a lot of people this way (FWIW, about 70%+ have been American). Now that I am retired, I am selling my own services in the same marketplaces. I have clients in the US and overseas.

    As far as overall numbers are concerned, it still isn't a big deal ... yet.

    But anyone who participates in it on either side of the transaction will quickly realize that it is going to grow very fast and, sooner or later, it will have a big impact on how people are employed.

    Our current terminology and models don't begin to reflect the potential (or possibly threat) of this phenomenon.

    Maturity: Doing what you know is right - even though you were told to do it

    by grapes on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 03:26:55 PM PST

  •  Part-time jobs (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    don't move people forward.  People barely tread water with part-time work.  

    In other news, "Fed official alleges Geithner may have alerted banks to rate cut"--

    Or for more in-depth reporting,

    The most tyrannical of governments are those which make crimes of opinions, for everyone has an inalienable right to his thoughts.-Baruch Spinoza, philosopher

    by StonedontheSofa on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 03:33:07 PM PST

  •  Another view of the problem (0+ / 0-)

    I just uploaded another FRED graph that shows the problem from a slightly different perspective: not the total number of temp workers, but temp workers as a percentage of the total (non-farm) workforce. The result is somewhat less stark, because the number of workers has climbed together with the total population of the economy (and even faster, as women entered the workforce in larger numbers since 1960). I think the new graph shows a more realistic view of the situation: bad, but (far too slowly) improving.

    Not sure if I know how to load or link to an image, but here's trying:


  •  Three laborers for the price of one (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A friend of mine has been with a particular company for many years. Slowly the company began to lay off her co-workers while giving her more responsibilities, until finally one day she found herself working the jobs of three people (the ones her former co-workers performed).

    When she begged them to hire more people her company ignored her. She's been working this way for over a year and finally when she told them she was completely exhausted, upper management gave her a $12k/year raise. This obviously keeps the company from having to hire anyone or having to train a new person.

    I don't know how she does it or why she does it but I do know stories like hers are more common than we know.

    Strange but not a stranger.

    by jnww on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:45:16 PM PST

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