Economic malaise – the part-time factor

By Steve Eggleston

It’s been a few months since I’ve been writing, and the occasion of the 8th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Recession seemed an appropriate time to return to the ranks of the punditry. I jumped into the middle of a Twitter mini-discussion over the part-time portion of the workforce, specifically the apparent paradox of 319,000 more people working part-time for economic reasons on a seasonally adjusted basis last month than in October while 765,000 fewer people were working part-time for economic reasons on a seasonally-adjusted basis (746,000 fewer on a not-seasonally-adjusted basis) last month than in November 2014. Something Charles Franklin said sent me into this particular tangent of comparing the current level of part-time work to the recent past.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, as part of the Current Population Survey that measures unemployment, estimates the number of people working part-time, both the total number and those working part-time for economic reasons. Indeed, the latter is the last part of the broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment, the U-6 measure. Unlike most portrayals in the press, it is not a measure of part-time, or full-time jobs. Rather, it is the number of people who, at however many jobs they have, are working less than 35 hours per week for part-time status, or at least 35 hours per week for full-time status.

I do have a word of caution on the seasonal adjustment of the part-time measure of employment, especially the economic reason portion. More often than not, a wild swing in one direction is followed by an essentially-equal swing back. The November rise in the number of people working came after drops of 447,000 in September and 269,000 in October.

With that noted, I decided to calculate the percentage of the employed who were working part-time and the percentage who were working part-time due to economic conditions since the current version of the CPS began in 1994:


Part-time economic reasons
Click the images for the full-size versions

In short, while things have been improving, there is still quite a ways to go to get back to where we were before the Great Recession on the employment front.