The share of people working part-time involuntarily remains at recessionary levels. In 2015, there were 6.4 million workers who wanted to work full time but were working part time, accounting for 4.4 percent of those at work; this is roughly 2.0 million more involuntary part-time workers, or a 1.3 percentage-point increase in the rate of involuntary part-time employment prior to the recession. In fact, data from 2007 to 2015 show that involuntary part-time work is increasing almost five times faster than part-time work and about 18 times faster than all work.
It is this rise in involuntary part-time work that is driving an overall increase in part-time employment generally, as the share of the workforce working part time voluntarily has been stable since 2007. Thus, the “new normal” of underutilized labor primarily reflects the increased employer use of part-time employees and not any increased preference among workers for part time employment.The currently elevated level of part-time work — and of involuntary part-time work in particular — is no longer “cyclical,” i.e., it does not reflect a delayed and slow recovery, although reaching full employment could eventually yield a diminution in part-time work as workers are able to secure full-time employment.
The structural nature of today’s involuntary part-time employment is evident in the decrease in workers who say they are involuntarily part time due to slack work. Involuntary part-time work has gradually decreased since 2009 but almost entirely because fewer workers are working part-time hours due to “slack work or business conditions,” which had ballooned during the Great Recession. Slack work is an indicator of cyclical business lows.
In contrast, the share of those working involuntarily part time because they “could find only part-time” work (i.e., employers were offering only part-time work, indicative of structural factors) is just as high as it was at the end of the recession in 2009.Involuntary part-time work and its growth are concentrated in several industries that more intensively use part-time work, specifically, retail and leisure and hospitality. Retail trade (stores and car dealers, etc.) and leisure and hospitality (hotels, restaurants, and the like) contributed well over half (63.2 percent) of the growth of all part-time employment since 2007, and 54.3 percent of the growth of involuntary part-time employment. These two industries, together with educational and health services and professional and business services, account for the entire growth of part-time employment and 85.0 percent of the growth of involuntary part-time employment from 2007 to 2015.Trends in the reason for part-time employment by industry also suggest structural factors in play.
In 2015, involuntary part-time workers made up 7.8 percent of all those at work in the retail sector. That is 3.4 percentage points higher than before the recession started, in 2007. Roughly 60 percent of this growth in involuntary part-time work reflects those who “could find only part-time work.” Involuntary part-time work was an even higher proportion of employment, 10.4 percent, in the leisure and hospitality industry in 2015, up 3.6 percentage points from 2007. Roughly half of this growth in involuntary part-time work reflects those who “could find only part-time work,” indicating structural factors were at least as important as cyclical factors.
The suggestion that the “shared responsibility provision” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is behind some of the shift toward part-time work is not supported by the data. The provision requires that certain employers pay a fee if they don’t offer a minimum level of health insurance to employees working 30 or more weekly hours. Had these health care-related labor costs prompted employers to reduce more positions to part-time hours, there would be a number of trends in the data that suggest a structural change in involuntary part-time working or hours worked, and these trends do not appear.
Certain groups of Americans are most vulnerable to the burdens of involuntary part-time work.Hispanic and black workers have been hardest hit by the structural shift toward involuntary part-time work. Hispanics and blacks are relatively much more likely to be involuntarily part-time (6.8 percent and 6.3 percent respectively) than whites, of whom just 3.7 percent work part time involuntarily. And blacks and Hispanics are disproportionate shares of involuntary part-time workers: together they constitute just 27.9 percent of those “at work,” they represent 41.1 percent of all involuntary part-time workers. The greater amount of involuntary part-time employment among blacks and Hispanics is due to their both having a greater inability to find full-time work and facing more slack work conditions. Black and Hispanic women (and women of “other race/ethnicity”) are the groups most likely to experience involuntary part-time employment and represented 21.1 percent of all invo