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Editorial: Economic recovery hasn’t reached involuntary part-time workers

As President Obama works to refocus attention in Washington and across the country on the economy, new research from the University of New Hampshire suggests the job may be more complicated than it appears.

The president and others have expressed relief in the slowly shrinking unemployment rate, which has made steady progress across the country since the depths of the Great Recession. But a report from the Carsey Institute at UNH indicates that politicians should be concerned not just about those Americans who are out of work but also about those working part time involuntarily – in other words, people who would prefer full-time work but are unable to find it. As the economy has rebounded, the percentage of involuntary part-time workers – those working fewer than 35 hours each week – has remained stubbornly high, creating significant hardships for them and their families. The Carsey report notes:

∎ The single largest five-year increase in involuntary part-time employment since the 1970s occurred between 2007 and 2012.

∎ The involuntary part-time employment rate more than doubled between 2007 and 2012. For women, it rose from 3.6 percent to 7.8 percent. For men, the rate increased from 2.4 percent in 2007 to 5.9 percent in 2012.

∎ While the unemployment rate has slowly fallen since 2010, the rate of workers in involuntary part-time positions has remained relatively constant.

∎ Involuntary part-time employment is a key factor in poverty. In 2012, one in four involuntary part-timers lived in poverty, whereas just one in 20 full-time workers lived in poverty.

You might think the factors that lift the general economy out of recession would create full-time opportunities for such workers but, so far, that’s not happening. In Washington and at the state level, it’s worth some hard thinking about why – and what might be done about it.

The Carsey report makes at least one concrete suggestion: “Policies that increase the quality of part-time positions, such as unemployment insurance for part-time workers, may go far in alleviating the economic penalties associated with involuntary part-time employment,” said researcher Rebecca Glauber.

Hours aside, part-time jobs today are typically much less attractive than full-time positions. The hourly pay is lower, they come with fewer benefits and they offer less job security. If part-time work is, in fact, the new normal for a not-insignificant part of the population, it may well make sense for laws to be modernized to fit that reality. But forcing new mandates on employers is no doubt politically fraught.

There is a worry, of course, that the number of involuntary part-timers could grow, rather than shrink, in future years. That’s because the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide health insurance to full-timers; reducing employees’ hours below the 30-hour threshold could potentially save companies money.

Glauber’s report stresses that such fears did not materialize in Massachusetts, where a similar health-care mandate has been in place for years. Between 2006 and 2010, full-time employment declined by 2.8 percentage points in Massachusetts and by 2.7 percentage points in states with comparable employment levels. And full-time employment declined by a significantly larger percentage (3.6 percentage points) in the rest of the country.

Still, there is already some evidence in New Hampshire that such hours-cutting is taking place. The state community colleges, for instance, informed their adjunct professors this year that the number of hours they could work would be capped. An official at NHTI attributed the change directly to the new health-care law.

For many people, part-time work is a blessing: It gives them flexibility and allows them to balance education or child-care or elder-care responsibilities with earning a living. But for those part-timers who would prefer full-time work, the economic recovery is still a work in progress.

Legacy Comments21

Notice to the Monitor editors and all posting here. There has been NO economic recovery. period.

Record 8.9 Million Workers Now on Disability Benefits

Yes Sail, the social safety net has now turned into the social "hammock". My ex brother in law has not worked for 30 years (on the books at least), claims disability for vertigo and had to go to 10 doctors until one would back him up. There are people who have self respect, people who truly need disability and then people scamming the system. Everyone knows it and no one cares thanks to the media. Bottom line is that one day, people will get fed up supporting those who refuse to support themselves.....I hope that is soon!

Jim, my daughter worked for a temp agency in NYC and did get paid more. Financially, the business that hires a temp comes out on top cost wise. They do not have to provide benefits to a temp like health ins, holiday pay, and they do not have to train them. The whole reason temporary agencies succeed is because of the pool of workers they have and what they can do. If a business needs someone temporarily for a contract job or if someone is on leave say for maternity the temp does it. If a business pays a temp more for a short period of time, then they still save. The temp agencies that are successful offer, health ins, and even 401ks etc. So a temp worker with a good agency makes out okay, they get to work in many companies to see if they were offered a job there if they are a good fit, etc. My daughter worked for an amazing temp agency that enabled her to boost her resume by getting the experience of working at many companies and being exposed to many diverse tasks. The temp employee is not involved in office politics, they get the job done and my daughter was offered many jobs by the companies she worked temporarily for. She took the job where she was the best fit. Never went without medical coverage, and has the option of going back to the temp agency if she is ever laid off. Her pay scale with the temp agency was based on her attendance record, reliability and experience while working for them. At first she was paid average wages, but the longer she worked for them, she gained a higher pay scale. The folks who have 50 employees or under are also faced with the ACA dictating what qualifies as acceptable insurance. That means that the ACA dictates what is covered. That also means that the average small business present health ins does not always meet the qualifications of what is mandated under ACA. So their premiums go up. My spouse works for an under 50 employee business and his medical insurance went up by 65%, we have a higher deductible and are paying more out of pocket.

RabbitNH- I'll accept your word that your daughter got health ins and 401K benefits from a temp agency. Actually I'm glad to hear that at least one agency offered some benefits. I can only attest to the fact that I personally dealt with well over a hundred temp employees from a number of different agencies and not one got any benefits from the agency or my company. Most constantly asked (begged) if they could be hired so they would have benefits and better pay. Glad your daughter got the career position she was looking for.

Places like NYC and LA manage to do quite well with Temp Agencies. The demand is there for them, especially in regards to students just out of college trying to break into their fields. There is just a vast amount of jobs in these cities, that the need for temps is high. Temps Agencies work for students and women getting back into the work force. But they are temporary. The hope is they will lead to a job offer. They often do in big cities. Sadly, we are going to see more and more part time hours across this country. The economy is stuck, folks are still worried about cost per employee, and more mandates coming down the road from the EPA. Does not bode well for new startups either sadly.

Those who think history begins with their personal involvement in it, which is to say the majority of Americans, are waking up to see the fruits of their folly. From 1945 to 1980 business and labor enjoyed a not always comfortable equilibrium. Then came the 1980 election. Candidate Ronald Reagan promised the air traffic controllers that he would address their workplace safety concerns - excessive stress and too-long shifts. Once in office President Reagan reneged on his promise, busting their union and firing them after the controllers took the only action left to them, a strike. It was the first blow toward implementing the Powell Manifesto, and 32 years later here we are.

What you leave out with the Air Traffic Controllers Strike is very telling Gracchus. Why don't you start from the beginning with what went on with them under Nixon. Why do you leave out what was offered 11% raise and how Geraldine Ferrarro a Dem leaked the details of the agreement to make Reagan look like he was in bed with the union. She did it for political purposes. Why do you leave out that it is illegal for federal workers to go on strike? Would you like it if the federal workers who process SS, Medicare and Medicaid checks went on strike? or say the Army? Air Traffic Controllers were federal employees. Why are you accusing me of of having little knowledge about what I post, and then you turn around and mislead folks? It is becoming a pattern with the left. Leave out important facts about what actually happened with the hope that the uninformed will buy it so you can promote your agenda.

The PATCO strike was about working conditions, not wages - fact. Yes, it is illegal for federal employees to strike; and the controllers knew it. Reagan had the option to deal with that fact other than firing the lot. I leave out facts that I take to be general knowledge. Heaven knows there isn't time or space to repeat everything an informed populace ought to know. If the federal workers you refer to went on strike my reactions would be as follows: 1) a sense of betrayal of trust and probably some inconvenience, 2) a serious examination into the nature of their grievance, 3) an observation that they are forbidden by law from striking, yet politicians can cause me equal grief for purely political gain (remember Newt Gingrich's shutdown?), 4) depending on what I learn I would do what I can to persuade the parties to settle their differences. I make no effort to hide my pro-worker sentiments; during the controllers' strike I brought the picketers coffee and doughnuts whenever I was anywhere near the Nashua FAA center. As to misleading, I'd appreciate your providing an instance of a falsehood that I present as a fact. And while you're at it, why did you take my post as directed at you? It was and still is a commentary on the sad state of all too many employees in America. Read the Powell Manifesto, and tell me it's unexpected.

OK, do you feel that the Obama administration has been as fair with the American people when it comes to the IRS scandal or the phone records scandal or the debate (or lack thereof allowed) on Obamacare? If the government is shut down due to any of these things would you still feel as if there is not some 1) betrayal of trust and inconvenience on the American people and should there not be a public and serious examination of 2) the nature and content of the grievance. Would you deny that everything that Obama does is not for 3) political reasons? Would you not agree that as Americans we ought to know the truth and 4) settle the differences with both sides conceding points? How can you rail against the PATCO action while putting up with corruption which others in power today are advancing while Americans speak out in much larger percentages and it falls on deaf ears. Six of one of half a dozen of the other. Can you be intellectually honest for once?

Let me explain Gracchus. My post was that you mislead by what you leave out and instead expand on your agenda that leads folks to believe what you state is what went on. In order to examine any issue you need to say this happened and that happened based on facts, not just the ones that support your agenda by leaving out how things happened. That is a Dem tactic. It plays on the hope that folks will believe what you say based on the fact they are uninformed. Maybe you do it with out that intention but it does mislead. As far as what you say directed at me. You tell me. "If a little learning is a dangerous thing, Rabbit's post indicates how menacing none at all is" I would say that was directed at me. Pretty much states that I am not even in the category of having a little learning I would say. Not to worry though, I do not take it personally. It was mentioned in rebuttal that you do in fact direct nastiness at me,. I might say I think you mislead, but I would never say you lack learning. That is the difference. Besides your nastiness is spread out among everybody who disagrees with you, so I do not feel signaled out more than others.

This part time worker class has been going on for about 10+ years. Companies starting hiring "part time" and "temp labor" for single task jobs where a worker can be taught quickly and then left to work. The benefits to the company are simple, no insurance, no vacation, no retirement, no sick days, they can release the employee without cause at any time with no unemployment cost. The new wave will be "contract work", sign on a more technical person for 6 month periods for the same reasons. Companies are shifting what use to be work benefits onto the back of the government (Medicare, Medicaid, SS, unemployment pay) and then crying for lower taxes as their actions drive up the government costs even higher. The trend was started before Obamacare. Personally I feel this will be the “excuse” companies were looking for to go to even more part time workers.

Jim, I agree. Let me tell you what happened at my company--one of the biggest engineering companies in the country. We had a big project come in with a tight deadline. So the project manager hired a young engineer through a temp agency that specializes in engineers. I got to know the guy pretty well over the months. Good guy, good engineer. The deadline was approaching on a Friday and everyone was working hard. At midnight Thursday his boss tells him that Friday will be his last day as the project is over. Thrown out like a used tissue. It's despicable!

Gen Xer. Are you not aware of how the Temp Working Industry operates? My daughter worked for one in NYC for about 10 years. Temp workers get paid more for their temp work. A person who works for a temp agency knows their work is temporary. Many do it because they enjoy going from company to company as opposed to working for one company. Working for a temp agency also beefs up your resume experience wise. Many fields have been doing part time hrs for years, like the fast food industry and retail. There are reasons for it. By giving teens part time work they always have someone to fill in when a teen does not show up. Most teens are on their folks insurance plans. What is happening now is that all industries will switch to part time to avoid paying for ObamaCare. It is either that or reduce their staff. This is what will be happening. Others will reduce their staff to get their full time employees under 50. We are seeing the fallout from the ACA. You were not told any of this. You were just told how great the ACA would be.

RabbitNH - not sure where your daughter worked but as a manager for many years with a large international corporation I can assure you "temp workers" are not hired so they can be paid more. They are paid less with no benefits what so ever. Yes there is a need for part time workers and some people do not want to work full time, but the topic is companies going to "temp" and "part time" as a normal condition to avoid hiring "full time" employees. You refer a lot to small business, the ACA refers to companies with over 50 employees which most do not consider a small business. You talk of businesses planning for the future but how do "people" plan for a future if all the can expect is part time work. And this started before Obamacare.

I've never worked for a temp agency but I know several colleagues who have. No, they do not get paid more and they get reduced- if any- benefits. My friend couldn't even get a pass to the parking garage we use. When he asked, his boss said "No. Why should that come out of my pocket?". The temp agencies are thriving because more and more companies are using this tactic to get work done. It's one thing to hire temps in a warehouse but another to hire them to design a bridge. I don't know of ANY colleagues who wanted to work temp jobs. They're all praying to get hired on full-time. Companies get away with this because they can. They work their people overtime without pay because they can. They cut benefits because they can. The balance of power has clearly shifted toward the employer/owner. This has been going on for years before the ACA came along and is evidenced by the ever-widening income gap between the rich and everyone else.

Correct Jim and Gen_x_er, As the big business mantra continues we all will pay through the nose to take care of Americans while the profits of big business continue to grow and get deposited in offshore banks. They have a habit of taking care of themselves, just ask Mitt....

If you don't like that kind of thing then support policies which encourage businesses to hire people, reduce regulation and vote for candidates who will allow us to do things like become energy independent, etc. Progressives have worsened this whole dilemma.

It does not have to be the "new normal". There are simple and easy solutions but Democrats just don't want to give an inch. If we drilled our own oil and kept it here, we could really drive the economy, look at the economy in North Dakota. If we eased some of the more draconian business restrictions, jobs would come. If we ditched Obamacare, companies would hire more full time people. If professors taught a full schedule instead of taking sabbaticals and writing papers, we would not need adjuncts, much less have them working part time.. The confidence of employers is influenced by progressive policies. It has been nearly 6 years of horrible economy, high unemployment, runaway spending, etc. Americans need to wake up instead of settling for the "new normal".

Indeed, I've been coming across more and more people working part-time, temporary, contract or non-benefit jobs. I'm afraid it might be the new normal. I'm not sure how much of this rooted in employers' lack of confidence to hire and how much is employers' taking advantage of a soft labor market. I suspect more the latter. What's happening to the adjunct professors is a case-in-point and it's simply wrong, especially when administrative staff is getting raises and adding more positions.

The Obama Economy - only 48% of workers hold a FULL TIME JOB......the percentage of Americans working is down to 58% which is all time low - lower that Carters 61%

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