Workers struggle to make ends meet as part-time jobs increase

October 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm

As we have previously blogged about, the recovery period from this economic recession has been characterized by an increase in low-wage jobs. Since the first quarter of 2001, the biggest job gains have been in low-wage jobs as the economy has shifted away from higher-wage jobs, like those in manufacturing, toward lower-wage jobs, such as those in retail and administrative sectors.

At the same time, companies– retailers in particular– have been increasing their share of part-time workers. In an effort to cut costs, many retailers are cutting down hours and hiring more workers, rather than retaining less workers with longer hours.  This trend contributes to the rise of underemployed workers– those who are employed, but not sufficiently so (for example, someone looking for full time work but currently in a part-time job would be underemployed).

The New York Times profiled this issue yesterday, pointing out the hardships this presents for many workers:

While there have always been part-time workers, especially at restaurants and retailers, employers today rely on them far more than before as they seek to cut costs and align staffing to customer traffic. This trend has frustrated millions of Americans who want to work full-time, reducing their pay and benefits.“Over the past two decades, many major retailers went from a quotient of 70 to 80 percent full-time to at least 70 percent part-time across the industry,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm.

Retailers today use sophisticated software to help assign work hours in the most cost-effective way possible. By being able to carefully examine customer traffic, companies can schedule shifts down to 15 minute increments in order to have just the right amount of workers during each moment of the day. Consequently, assigning work shifts has become in many cases less predictable– work schedules can change any time depending on the need– and many workers have seen their hours reduced. For workers with families or other obligations, such as second jobs or school, this makes keeping a job even  more challenging.

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. And with work schedules that change week to week, workers can find it hard to arrange child care, attend college or hold a second job, according to interviews with more than 40 part-time workers.

In addition to the lower wages offered by part-time work, reducing hours has also led to workers receiving fewer benefits– and even those who have benefits work such few hours that they can’t afford to use them. The article discussed one worker who, though she had health benefits, could not afford the co-pays for a doctor’s visit.

The jobs numbers may go up and down during the course of a recovery, and are an indicator of the health of the economy. But they’re not the only indicator. Job quality is equally important. For many people, simply having a job does not mean that they are on a path toward financial security. If the trend toward low-wages and job insecurity continue, then we will not be building a solid foundation for a true economic recovery.




Entry filed under: Economic Development, Economy, Jobs & Employment. Tags: , , .

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