About "Part Time America"

I’m a little chagrined at all the recent attention to the issue of part time workers — specifically part time for economic reasons. The issue started getting attention earlier this year as economists, journalists and pundits discovered the involuntary underemployed (as I call them). The most recent punch-counterpunch on the issue is Mort Zuckerman’s “The Full-Time Scandal of Part-Time America” (WSJ – subscription required) and Derek Thompson’s “Here’s What Obama’s ‘Part-Time America’ Really Looks Like” (The Atlantic).
I first raised the issue back in November 2008 and started tracking the data on the involuntary underemployed back in mid-2009. As the chart below (published in July 2009) shows, involuntary underemployment started rising in the end of 2007 and peaked out in the spring of 2009. Involuntaryunderemployed.gif
Since then, the number of involuntary underemployed has remained high but gradually declined. The latest data for June 2014 shows a decline of 1.6 million part-timers to 7.4 million from a high of over 9 million in March 2009.

Involuntary underemployed June 2014.png
So, while I’m glad that others have finally started paying attention I wish they would get the story straight. The story is not about Obamacare and new incentives on employers to only offer part time work as some would claim. The number of involuntary underemployed peaked well before the time Obamacare was enacted by the Congress, let alone implemented.
The story is about the Great Recession and the slow recovery. It is about a waste of human capital and policymakers not paying attention. The number of involuntary underemployed is part and parcel of the entire employment picture. The involuntary underemployed are in the same labor market situation as the unemployed: not able to find a full time job. But while we have policies in place that supposedly help the unemployed find work (such as training programs and unemployment insurance), the underemployed are generally left to fend for themselves. As I said back in November 2008, “Few of the proposals in the stimulus package will help the worker whose hours have been reduced.”
Maybe now policymakers will start looking at the underemployment problem more seriously — and start treating it as a part of the total “wasted human capital” (aka unemployment) problem. Unfortunately, some seem to be drawing the wrong conclusions about the situation that will lead to the wrong policy prescriptions. We can do better.

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