An abbreviated observance of Labor Day may be in order, as the
expansion of part-time work gains tighter hold of the U.S. workforce.
"Businesses are being very cautious about how they hire," said Teri Ooms, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, a regional research and analysis group. "They don't want to invest in full-time employment because it's costly and part-time workers are more expendable."
Part-time employment nationally expanded by 13 percent from July 2007 to this summer, federal data show. More than 790,000 part-time positions were added nationwide from March to July, about 68 percent of total new job volume, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Express Employment Professionals, an Oklahoma City-based staffing agency, recorded a 123 percent jump in part-time job placement nationally over the last three years, said Amy Clegg, owner of the company's franchises for Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
"My numbers closely resemble that," Clegg said.
Causes for the rise in part-time work include continued high unemployment, consumer and business uncertainty rooted in a slow economic recovery, political gridlock in Washington and concerns about business costs over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"We have had job growth, but it hasn't been particularly strong and it hasn't been particularly good for full-time workers," said Mark Price, Ph.D., an economist at the Keystone Research Center, a labor-supported Harrisburg group that tracks the state's economy. "It is still a hangover from the recession. There aren't enough jobs for people who want them and they will take what they can get."
Pennsylvania's part-time workforce has held relatively steady, increasing from about 1.14 million in 2007 to 1.15 million this spring, state data indicate. The number of people working part-time who would prefer to work full-time, though, more than doubled from about 112,000 to 226,000.
The federal government considers people who work at least 35 hours weekly as full-time employees.
Manpower, a job-placement firm based in Milwaukee, gets few requests from regional companies for part-time workers, said Susan Branley, manager of the company's Dickson City office. But she talks to many people seeking full-time work.
"We see a lot of candidates coming in, people working part-time who say, 'I can't live on this. I need a full-time job,'" Branley said. "There are a lot of people out there who are only part-time and that is not what they want."
The area's warehousing and distribution sector has many full-time openings, she said, and Clegg said 60 percent of her agency's placements still are full-time, with steady demand for welders, machinists and forklift operators.
Employees in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area average more weekly hours on the job than state and national workers. The average worker logged 34.8 hours regionally in July, according to federal labor statistics, compared to 34.4 hours for employees nationwide and 33.6 statewide.
Although more than 116 million people work full-time, part-time employment in July hit an all-time high of 28.2 million, federal data show.
Some of the push toward part-time reflects the choppy economy and lingering high unemployment, Price said, and more companies cut hours when workers are not needed in service and retail positions.
"We are seeing more employers trying to go to on-demand employment, bringing people on when you need them," he said. "It's a strategy that employers like to use because it saves them money."
Ongoing political standoffs in Washington, resulting in stalemates over the national debt, budget funding and other major economic issues, makes employers hesitant to do more full-time hiring, Ooms said.
"The political uncertainty and the lack of confidence by the consumer in our political system also plays a role in our economy recovery because it's too volatile," she said.
The health care reform law also may add momentum to part-time hiring. In 2014, most companies will be required to offer health insurance to all employees who work at least 30 hours weekly.
Businesses already are reacting to the implications of "Obamacare" by reducing hours, Clegg said.
"Companies are cutting people down to part-time," she said.
The result leaves legions of workers in a bind as costs rise, wages remain flat and people struggle, Ooms said.
"There is fear all the way around," she said.
"People don't have a lot of options," Price said. "They are sticking with what they've got and waiting for better times."
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