Elevated Level of Part-Time Employment: Post-Recession Norm?

By:  Nick Timiraos

Nearly 7 million Americans are stuck in part-time jobs that they don’t want.

The unemployment rate has fallen sharply over the past year, but that improvement is masking a still-bleak picture for millions of workers who say they can’t find full-time jobs.

Martina Morgan is deciding which bills to skip after her hours fell at Ikea in Renton, Wash. Sandra Sok says she’s been unable to consistently get full-time hours after she transferred to a Wal-Mart in Arizona from one in Colorado.

In Chicago, Jessica Davis is frustrated by her schedule dwindling to 23 hours a week at a McDonald’s even though her location has been hiring. “How can you not get people more hours but you hire more employees?” the 26-year-old Ms. Davis said.

The situation of these so-called involuntary part-time workers—those who would prefer to work more than 34 hours a week—has economists puzzling over whether a higher level of part-time employment might be a permanent legacy of the great recession. If so, it could force more workers to choose between underemployment or working multiple jobs to make ends meet, leading to less income growth and weaker discretionary spending.

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