[Steve Morgan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

More And More Americans Working Part Time

Americans are working much differently from the way they did before the Pandemic of 2020, and now the official statistics are beginning to back it up. 

More and more of us are working part time.

The number of Americans working part time rose by 1.2 million in December and January compared with the preceding months, according to the Labor Department. Most of that increase—857,000 workers—was driven by people who worked part time by choice, not because they were unable to find full-time work or their hours were cut, writes The Wall Street Journal.

The total number of people working part time voluntarily—22.1 million in January—is now almost six times the 4.1 million who are working part time but would prefer full-time hours. That is the highest ratio in two decades. In the first months of the pandemic, when millions of Americans were laid off and couldn’t find full-time jobs, or saw their hours cut, those numbers were about even. In the 20 years before the Covid-19 pandemic, the ratio typically stayed between three to one and five to one.

In total, 16.3% of the 160 million Americans who were employed in January worked part time hours, which the Labor Department defines as anything less than 35 hours in a week. 

The increase in part-time workers reflects changes in the U.S. economy and the historically tight labor market, according to economists, employers and workers. As the pandemic led to burnout among some workers and drove many to reconsider their careers, some have downshifted to part-time roles. 

Seeking Alpha pointed out that this is not especially good news for the economy, and a lot of what we’re seeing as “job growth” being touted by the Biden Administration as a validation for their policies is really a symptom that a recession is nearing as inflation puts pressure of Americans. 

“In recent months, employment growth has increasingly been driven by part-time rather than full-time employment. Since September, in fact, month-to-month employment growth in full-time jobs has been negative, while growth in part-time jobs has been positive.

We see a similar trend in year-over-year job growth as well. In fact, in January’s jobs report, year-over-year growth in part-time jobs totaled 1.6 million, while growth in full-time jobs was only 1.4 million. The reverse is usually true in a time of economic expansion. For example, for much of 2018, year-over-year growth in full-time jobs numbered in the millions, while part-time employment actually fell.

if we look at the household employment survey, which looks at employed persons and part-time status, we find that many of the jobs we’re hearing about in last month’s “wow” jobs numbers are actually part-time work. Most of the reported job growth, in fact, was apparently part-time.

This could be due to several factors, not least of which is the fact that nominal year-over-year wage growth slowed in January—and real wages likely went down as well. As inflation continues to take a bite out of the family budget, more workers will need to take on extra work. At the same time, employers may be reluctant to shoulder the cost of full-time workers as the economy softens.”

One driving factor for more people taking on part-time remains seniors who previously retired but have been forced back onto the job market for several reasons. 

CNBC noted, “Roughly 1 in 6 retired Americans say they are mulling over whether to get a job, according to a recent study from Paychex. On average, those “unretiring” individuals have been out of the workforce for four years.

The top reasons cited by people surveyed for the report were “personal reasons” (57%), ‘needing more money’ (53%) and ‘getting bored’ (52%). ‘Feeling lonely’ (45%) and ‘inflation’ (45%) rounded out the top five reasons for considering employment.

Over time, the number of older adults in the workforce has been growing. Among adults ages 65 to 74, the workforce participation rate was 25.8% in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That share is expected to grow to 30.7% by 2031. In the 75-and-older crowd, the portion in the workforce is expected to reach 11.1%, up from 8.6% in 2021.”

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