How Part Time Jobs Influence the Economy

By Thomas Metcalf

People work part-time jobs for many reasons. Some wish to balance work with other pursuits, while others enjoy the flexibility and control they maintain over their lives. Some retirees work part-time jobs to occupy their time and launch second careers. Others, however, work part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time employment.

Part-time by Choice

A segment of the labor force is part-time by choice and always has been. Starving actors are legendary – many creative people work part-time jobs because they need the flexibility in their schedules to attend auditions and, hopefully, land their gigs. Some entrepreneurs hold down a full-time job, working part time to build what they hope will one day be their full-time business. The internet has opened new opportunities for those who have always wanted independence but did not know how to achieve it.

Young Part-timers

The slow recovery from the 2007 to 2009 recession forced many new college graduates to work part-time jobs out of necessity. Those lucky enough to find full-time employment found that average starting income for college grads declined from $30,000 in 2006 – 2008 to $27,000 in 2009 – 2010, according to Rutgers University’s Heldrich Center. And with college loans to pay, many have taken part-time work to make ends meet. Others have not found full-time employment and are working multiple part-time jobs to piece together a full-time income. With no company-paid health insurance for part-time employees, part-time workers have had to depend on parental policies, which now cover family members to age 26.

Permanent Part-timers

The weak job market in the post-recession economy has forced many workers to subsist on income from part-time jobs. Workers who are “part-time for economic reasons” are not considered to be unemployed by the government, even though many are underemployed; that is, working in jobs that are well below their skill levels. Whether this reflects a permanent change in the labor market remains to be seen. Even as the unemployment rate trends downward, that statistic does not reflect the plight of the involuntarily part-time workers.

Health Care and Part-timers

Companies with 50 or more employees are required to offer affordable health insurance to all full-time employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. A full-time worker is an employee who works 30 or more hours per week. In the wake of the plan’s initial implementation, a number of firms announced their intention to convert full-time positions to part-time. If this shift becomes a trend, it will create an even larger pool of part-time workers. The full ramifications of forced reduction in hours will unfold as Obamacare is fully implemented.

The Economic Impact

Part-time jobs typically pay less than full-time positions, forcing the part-timer to seek multiple jobs. Part-time jobs may not afford the worker the depth of experience that is needed to advance into higher paying full-time positions. With no benefits, part-timers are left to their own devices to cover medical expenses. Since the economic foundation that should be formed in the early years of a career is deferred, some young workers may never fully recover. The record number of baby boomers reaching retirement age will require a strong economy to support Social Security and Medicare expenses. Unless the part-time problem can be solved, that may prove difficult.

This article is originally posted in Chron.

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