This post first appeared on FloatingPath

You may have seen a chart similar to this one floating around, which shows that the number of jobs in the U.S. is nearing its pre-recession peak.


Separating the employed by full-time and part-time status provides a different view to the assertion that we are anywhere near our pre-recession employment level though. When the economy slipped into recession, full-time employment cratered. Part-time employment increased simultaneously, as many workers simply had their hours reduced rather than see termination.

Since the November 2007 employment peak, part-time jobs have increased by 2.9 million, but full-time jobs have decreased by 3.9 million. (The part-time designation is given to workers who say they usually work less than 35 hours per week.)

Not all jobs are equal, and on top of the higher likelihood that a full-time job would be accompanied by health benefits and retirement contributions, full-time workers being cut to part-time means less wages and lower household incomes.
Part-Time Employment Stats In America Reveal Interesting Trends

The number of people employed in the U.S. peaked in November 2007 at 146.6 million (1). At the time, 24.8 million people, or 16.88% of all workers, were part-time workers.

In January 2010, that ratio reached a high of 20.04%. It has now fallen to 19.01%, but is still well above its level of the early-to-mid 2000?s (2).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics separates those working part-time into either part-time for economic reasons, meaning workers who would prefer to be full-time but are involuntarily part-time, or part-time for noneconomic reasons, which could include school or family or retirement or any other obligations that have led the worker to be voluntarily part-time.

By comparing these against each other, we can see that those part-time for economic reasons remains elevated as a share of those part-time for noneconomic reasons. This suggests that the spike in part-time employment is caused by poor economic conditions or a skills mismatch rather than shifting lifestyle decisions.

Until a much greater portion of those seeking full-time work are able to find it, U.S labor market health simply cannot be seen as the same caliber of a pre-recession economy.

Footnote 1: Figures from Table A-9 are used for counting the total employed and will vary slightly from total employed figure the BLS reports in Summary table A. This is due to the full-time employed and part-time employed components being seasonally adjusted independently, while the BLS total employed number first sums all components on a not seasonally adjusted basis and then makes the seasonal adjustment.

Footnote 2: This chart only goes back to 2000 because (1) we are trying to compare part-time employment to a normalized level and (2) the BLS has changed its methodologies in its Current Population Survey (CPS) over time making it difficult to compare the share of part-time workers over longer periods.