by Tracy A Morrissette
Oregon Employment Department
Although most people work in full-time jobs, nearly one-quarter of employed Oregonians usually worked part-time schedules in 2012. People work part time for a variety of reasons. Part-time jobs offer flexibility for some who seek a job that fits their circumstances, such as students, those looking for additional income from seasonal work, or a spouse in a household with young children. Such groups are generally considered the “voluntary part-time employed.” In contrast are the “involuntary part-time employed.” These are people working part-time schedules since they can’t find full-time employment or have had their hours cut at work from a usual full-time schedule down to a part-time schedule because of economic conditions, such as a slow economy.
The Current Population Survey (CPS) collects date for the U.S. and Oregon about full- and part-time workers. Those figures include the demographics of people working part time, reasons for working part time, and how these numbers change over time. Among several things, these data can be used to determine how many people are “voluntarily” or “involuntarily” working part time.
What is a Part-Time Worker?
Although full- and part-time job classification can be generally thought of as working above or below a fixed number of hours per week, the reality is more complex since people generally have a “usual” number of hours that they work per week, an “actual” number of hours they did work each week, and a “preferred” number of hours they would like to work each week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) distinguishes between usual full- and part-time workers based on 35 hours per week:
Full-time worker: a person who usually works 35 or more hours during the survey reference week (at all jobs combined).
Part-time worker: a person who usually works fewer than 35 hours per week (at all jobs combined).
Usual work schedules, actual work schedules, and preferred work schedules may differ. The actual hours a person is at work during a week may differ from the usual number of hours they work for “noneconomic” or “economic” reasons. Noneconomic reasons are reasons such as vacation, illness, or bad weather. Economic reasons include slack work, material shortages, and repairs to plant or equipment. For example, if a person who usually works 40 hours per week goes on vacation for a couple of days, their usual work status would classify them as a “usual full-time worker” but the actual number of hours worked would be less than 35. Thus, this person would be a usual full-time worker who was at work between 1 and 34 hours for noneconomic reasons.
BLS publishes data for both usual and actual hours worked and reasons for the actual number of hours worked. Data on reasons for actual hours worked provide information about “preferences” concerning hours of work per week, which can be used to determine how many people are “voluntary part-time workers” and how many are “involuntary part-time workers.”
Characteristics of Part-Time Workers
Of the 142.5 million people employed in the U.S. in 2012, 114.8 million (80.6%) were usually employed full time and 27.7 million (19.4%) were usually employed part time. Percentages in Oregon were different, with 75.6 percent of Oregon’s total employment usually working full time and 24.4 percent usually working part time in 2012. Taking a longer-term perspective, Oregon tends to have a higher percentage of part-time workers than the U.S. (Graph 1).
U.S. data show that both younger and older workers are more likely to work part time. In 2012, within each age group, 46.8 percent of workers aged 16 to 24 years and 22.8 percent of workers aged 55 years and over worked part time. In contrast, only 13.1 percent of workers aged 25 to 54 years, a group traditionally considered to be of “prime working age,” worked part time. Younger workers are likely working part-time schedules for reasons related to school attendance, and older workers are likely working part time for reasons surrounding the transition to retirement from a “full-time career job.”
Oregon data by age group from the CPS are limited to age 16 to 19 years and age 20 years and over. However, Oregon data for 2012 tell a similar story with workers aged 16 to 19 years more likely to be working part time. Approximately 80 percent of employment for those aged 16 to 19 years was part time, while in contrast approximately 23 percent of employment for those aged 20 years and over was part time.
Although both men and women are more likely to be employed full time rather than part time, a majority of those working part time are women. In 2012, nearly two-thirds (63.6%) of U.S. part-time workers were women, and around one-third (36%) were men. About half of part-time workers are married with a spouse present (46%). Nearly 39 percent of part-time workers have never been married, and around 15 percent are widowed, divorced or separated. Oregon data by gender for 2012 show nearly the same percentages as the U.S.; approximately two-thirds of Oregon’s part-time workers are women, and around one-third are men.
For the U.S. in 2012, the highest concentration of part-time employment was in service occupations, with 39 percent of total employment in these occupations being part time. Included in this group are occupations such as fast food and counter workers, and waiters and waitresses. Other occupations with high concentrations of part-time workers are sales and related occupations (32% of employment in this occupation) and office and administrative support occupations (27%). Included in sales and related occupations are jobs such as retail sales workers.
Trends in Oregon’s Part-Time Employment
In addition to showing that Oregon has a higher percentage of part-time employment than the nation, Graph 1 also shows that the percentage of part-time workers began to increase in 2008 in both Oregon and the U.S. and remained elevated since that time period. The percentages of part-time workers in Oregon and the U.S. from 1997 to 2007 were fairly steady around 20 percent and 17 percent, respectively. By 2009, however, these percentages rose to nearly 25 percent in Oregon and to almost 20 percent for the U.S.
Detailed part-time worker data can help identify the factors behind this recent increase in the percentage of part-time workers. The elevated part-time share could be related to the most recent U.S. recession that lasted 18 months beginning in December 2007, or longer term “structural” shifts could be responsible, such as changes in preference toward part-time work. Changes in the number of “involuntary part-time” workers, or those at work for 1 to 34 hours for economic reasons, would suggest that factors related to the economy are more responsible for the recent increase in the percentage of part-time workers. In contrast, large shifts in those at work for 1 to 34 hours for noneconomic reasons, considered to be the “voluntarily part-time employed,” would suggest that a change in preference for part-time work is more responsible.
The share working in part-time schedules for noneconomic reasons in Oregon is generally a relatively fixed portion of total employment, suggesting that general attitudes toward part-time work have remained constant for the most part. Approximately 21 to 22 percent of Oregon’s total employment between 2003 and 2012 were at work for 1 to 34 hours for noneconomic reasons. A slight increase in this proportion occurred from 2009 to 2011, but that may be related to the “added worker effect.” The “added worker effect” is when one or more members of a household join the labor force to help maintain income in the household due to the actual or potential job loss (or hour reduction) of the household’s primary wage earner. Some of the “added workers” may have found part-time jobs. In 2012 this proportion returned to a level consistent with those from 2003 to 2008.
Although the majority of those in Oregon who were at work 1 to 34 hours in 2012 were working this schedule for noneconomic reasons, approximately 26 percent of part-time workers were working this schedule for economic reasons. Unlike those working part-time schedules for noneconomic reasons, the percentage of people working part time for economic reasons increases and decreases with the business cycle, along with Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate (Graph 2).
There are two general subgroups within those working part time for economic reasons: those whose hours have been reduced from a full time to a part-time schedule; and those who are working in part-time jobs since they can’t find full-time jobs. As Graph 2 indicates, when the labor market is weaker than normal due to a recession or the lingering effects of a recession, not only does the unemployment rate increase and remain elevated but more people work part time since either their hours at work have been reduced or they can’t find a full-time job.
The recent increase in the overall percentage of part-time workers that began in 2008 appears to be more related to increases in the amount of people working part time for economic reasons, as these numbers are more impacted by a downturn in the business cycle than those working part time for noneconomic reasons, which is a largely fixed percentage of total employment.
Nearly one-quarter of employed Oregonians usually worked part time in 2012. Although most of Oregon’s part-time workers could be classified as “voluntary part-time workers,” around 26 percent of part-time workers in Oregon could be classified as “involuntary part-time workers.” Although both groups are counted among Oregon’s aggregate part-time worker statistics, the circumstances surrounding each situation are different. Voluntary part-time workers seek part-time work for the flexibility it may offer their schedules, while involuntary part-time workers take part-time schedules due to economic conditions but would rather have full-time work. The portion of voluntary part-time workers remained largely fixed from 2003 to 2012, while the number of involuntary part-time workers increased during the most recent recession, and remained above pre-recession levels in 2012.