Sunday, July 05, 2009

Unemployment Rate and Part Time Employees

by Bill McBride on 7/05/2009 05:08:00 PM

The following article suggests that the large number of part time workers will slow any labor recovery:

‘I don’t need to hire anybody new. I need to work my existing workers more.’
That seems to make sense, but I wondered if it has been true in previous recessions (that a large number of part time workers - for economic reasons - became fully employed before the unemployment rate started to decline).

Here is the article from The Boston Globe: Grappling with part-time work
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 9.1 million Americans working part time for economic reasons, more than double the 4.5 million in 2007. That compares with a 50 percent rise in the recession of 1981-82 and a 25 percent increase in the recession of 1990.
...
For the economy as a whole, the glut of part-time workers could slow any recovery.

“At no time have we ever seen an increase of that magnitude, which is why labor markets are far weaker than the unemployment rate is telling us,’’ says Andrew Sum, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies.

“When the economy turns around if you have so many people that are in slack work, you’ll say, ‘I don’t need to hire anybody new. I need to work my existing workers more.’ It’s going to be a lot harder to bring the unemployment rate down.’’
The following graph shows the unemployment rate and the percent of the civilian labor force that is working part time for economic reasons.

Unemployment Part Time Click on graph for larger image in new window.

Looking back at previous recessions, it doesn't appear that there was a decline in part time workers (for economic reasons) prior to a decline in the unemployment rate.

That doesn't mean part time workers aren't hurting - many are (as noted in the article), but it appears the the number of part time workers, and the unemployment rate, usually peak at about the same time. This time might be different, but I wouldn't count on it.

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