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More Americans Are Working Part-Time

August 29, 2008 09:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
Many American workers are being forced into part-time positions, and more mothers and retirees are seeking part-time work.

The Part-Time Predicament

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Unable to find full-time positions, more Americans are turning to part-time work, with a resultant loss of income and health benefits.

While the unemployment rate rests at 5.5 percent, the number of workers who are “under-employed”—workers who have had their hours cut or have been relegated to part-time roles—neared 5.3 million in June, an increase of a million from the previous year. Susan Lambert of the University of Chicago calls the shift from full to part-time work “the canary in the coal mine.”

Construction accounts for 28 percent of this downshift, while retail and professional or business service comprise about half that percentage. According to the Department of Labor, 73 percent of those involuntarily shifted to part-time roles have been men, 35 percent of them Hispanic.

Concurrently, a growing number of Americans, particularly mothers, are seeking out higher-level part-time work. Liz Norwood, cofounder of 10 til 2, a part-time job placement service, said that the typical customer is a mother. “She wants to put her child on the bus in the morning, work several hours, and meet her child’s bus in the afternoon.” The problem the company struggles with is the sheer volume of job applicants. There are 16,000 people looking for work through the service. Norwood glumly acknowledges, “Unfortunately, we don’t have 16,000 jobs.”

Other employees, on the verge of retirement, see working part-time as an appealing alternative. For the employer, part-time workers planning to retire can smooth the transition to newcomers. According to the Journal Gazette, an Indiana newspaper, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reported that while 61 percent of workers would consider postponing retirement, less than half that number said they were asked to do so.

The Star Ledger notes
that retail and supermarket jobs, which offer sizeable discounts at their stores, can help employees compensate for escalating gas prices. However, according to The New York Times, only 16 percent of retail workers have health benefits.

Opinions & Analysis: Economic trends

Related Topics: Advice for mothers; coping when “pushed to part-time”; choosing a part-time job

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