The Slow Growth in Full-Time Jobs

Full-time employment of adults age 20 to 54 has grown substantially slower than part-time employment during this economic recovery.

  • Part-time employment grew annually by 0.73% from May-July 2010 to May-July 2012.
  • Full-time employment grew annually by 0.22% from May-July 2010 to May-July 2012.
  • The fraction of workers with part-time jobs has remained above 16% since 2009, about 3% higher than the average from 2000-2008.
  • There are about 3.2 million fewer full-time workers than what was typical for the U.S. workforce from 2000 to 2008 (holding constant total employment).

The millions of under-employed adults age 20 to 54 are both a symptom and a cause of the weak economic recovery.

Another indication of the problem of under-employment in this recovery is evident in the BLS Displaced Worker Surveys of 2010 and 2012.  The survey focuses on workers who lost jobs they held for at least three years prior to being displaced.  A “displacement” is a job separation that occurred because:  “a plant or company closed or moved, there was insufficient work” or the “position or shift was abolished.”  The survey asks people who were displaced in the past three years whether they were re-employed and if so, whether their new job is full-time or part-time.  The 2010 and 2012 Displaced Worker Surveys indicate that an unusually high fraction of re-employed workers have only found part-time work.

The following chart illustrates the fraction of re-employed displaced workers who held only a part-time job in all of the Displaced Worker Surveys from 1996 to 2012.

A comparison across surveys indicates that:

  • More than 15% of workers who had found work after displacement from a longer lasting job were working part-time in surveys that asked about  job losses from 2007 to 2011.
  •  About 10% of workers who had found work after displacement from a longer lasting job were working part-time in surveys that asked about  job losses from 1993 to 2007.
  • Workers displaced since 2007 have been 1.5 times more likely to be re-employed at a part-time job.

The weak economic recovery has resulted in a stubbornly high unemployment rate, discouraged jobless workers from looking for work and caused the labor force participation rate to fall well below pre-recession levels.  There are also several million more adults now working part-time compared to the pre-recession labor market.  BLS surveys indicate that some of these “new” part-time workers were displaced from jobs they held for years prior to the recession of 2007-2009.  Consequently the national unemployment rate of 8.3% substantially understates the degree of underutilization of human capital in our economy.

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