A Tale of Two Workforces: The Benefits and Burdens of Working Part Time (Media Release)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

National survey of Americans who work part time finds…

  • The vast majority of the nation’s 26 million part-time workers receive no benefits beyond their pay checks.
  • Nearly half (46%) of involuntary part-time workers — they want but cannot find a full-time job — and 34% of voluntary part-timers — they work part time because they wish to do so — are paid less than full-time workers for equivalent work in the same company.
  • Involuntary part-time workers are twice as likely as voluntary part-time workers to be forced to work on weekends and holidays, and be given unfavorable work schedules and job assignments.
  • More than three-quarters of part-time workers who want but cannot obtain a full-time job say their finances are in fair or poor shape; almost one-third say their financial condition is flat out poor.

Download the report, A Tale of Two Workforces: The Benefits and Burdens of Working Part Time.

Nearly one in five American workers is employed in a part-time job, logging less than 35 hours per week. Nearly 20 million people, known as voluntary part-time workers, do so to supplement their income, pursue an education, or care for children. Another 6.5 million Americans, known as involuntary part-time employees, want a full-time job but cannot find one. The persistence of such large numbers of involuntary part-time workers is an indicator of underlying weaknesses in the U.S. labor market more than six years since the beginning of the economic recovery.

A Tale of Two Workforces: The Benefits and Burdens of Working Part Time reports the results of a new online national probability sample survey of 944 workers, including 504 involuntary part-time workers and 440 voluntary part-time employees. The survey was conducted from March 25 to April 6, 2015 by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. The full report offers important insights into the experiences and attitudes of this significant component of the workforce.

Professor Carl Van Horn, co-director of the Work Trends project, commented, “Part-time workers who can’t find full-time jobs struggle to earn enough money to get by, even when they have multiple jobs. They seldom receive any benefits from their employers and often do the same work as, but get less pay than, their co-workers who are employed full time with the same company.”
Characteristics of the Part-time American Worker

Part-time workers are, in most ways, a microcosm of the U.S. population, but there are significant differences between those who work part time because they want to versus those who do so because they have no choice. Among the prominent differences are:

  • Voluntary part-time workers are disproportionately white, while involuntary part-time workers are disproportionately minority. Hispanics account for 23% of involuntary part-time workers and blacks account for another 15%, for a total of 38%; however, they make up only 21% of the voluntary workforce.
  • Women outnumber men by two to one among those working part time largely because they want to; men make up 32% of voluntary part-time workers, but 45% of involuntary ones.
  • Those over 60 years of age comprise almost one-quarter of the voluntary workforce, but fewer than 10% of involuntary part-time workers.

Hours Worked and Multiple Job Holders

One in three part-time workers hold multiple jobs: over one-quarter (27%) work two jobs and 6% work three or more jobs. The one-third of those with multiple jobs comprises 18% working more than one part-time job and 15% with both a full- and a part-time job.

Voluntary part-time workers average 20 hours weekly; involuntary part-time employees average 25 hours per week. However, among those who have multiple jobs, the voluntary group works an average (median) of 25 hours per week versus 35 hours weekly for involuntary part-time workers. Those working both a full- and part-time job clock about 50 hours weekly.

Low Pay and Limited Benefits

The median monthly income (salary or wages) of involuntary part-time workers responding to the Work Trends survey is $1,000 for salaried workers and $1,200 for hourly employees. At these compensation levels, if they earned the same amount each month for an entire year, their median yearly income would amount to approximately $13,000. (The Federal Poverty Level is $11,670 for a single-member household and $15,730 for a two-person household.) Forty percent of involuntary part-time workers report a total family income of less than $30,000, compared to 18% of voluntary part-time workers and 29% of the population as a whole. Between one-quarter and one-fifth receive health care, paid vacation days, paid sick days, or retirement accounts. Nearly three in four voluntary part-timers (74%) report that they earn above minimum wage compared to 58% of involuntary part-timers.

Financial Impacts of Part-time Work

Over half (55%) of voluntary part-time workers say their finances are in excellent or good shape. In sharp contrast, more than three-quarters of part-time workers who cannot obtain a full-time job say their finances are in fair or poor shape, with almost one-third saying their financial condition is flat out poor. Voluntary part-time workers report little financial stress or economic duress. In contrast, over 6 in 10 involuntary part-time workers say that they dealt with financial hardships related to their part-time work over the past two years. Almost half (46%) of involuntary part-timers say their work situation causes stress among family members or friends, 40% borrowed money from friends or family and increased their credit card debt, 37% cut back on food, one-third sold some of their possessions to make ends meet, and one-quarter cut back on health care spending.

Advantages and Disadvantages

When considering the advantages of part-time work, over 60% of both voluntary and involuntary workers agree that the ability to set one’s own schedule was a clear advantage yet less than 1 in 10 voluntary and involuntary part-time workers conduct their work exclusively from their homes.

However, the economic pressures of being employed part time loom large for involuntary part-timers. More than four in five say it’s hard to save for retirement and about 7 in 10 say they earn less money than they and their family need to get by and pay bills. More than half of involuntary part-time workers say it is hard for them to schedule work and family obligations and to look for full-time work. Given these difficulties, it is not surprising that only about 1 in 10 involuntary workers are “very satisfied” with their job(s) compared to 43% of voluntary workers.
Work Trends co-director and study co-author Professor Cliff Zukin commented, “What we are describing is a tale of two workforces in part-time America. Those who work part time because they want to are enjoying a richly rewarding experience with few complaints. Those who are working part time because they have to are largely unhappy with their jobs and under great economic and social stress.”
What Government Should Do to Help Part-time Workers
In most cases, involuntary part-time workers did not obtain government assistance to cope with their financial difficulties. However, over 1 in 4 (27%) report getting Food Stamps (WIC, SNAP), 17% received other social services from government agencies, and 11% obtained low-income energy assistance.

By large margins, both voluntary (67%) and involuntary part-time workers (72%) say that government should require employers to let them participate, on an equal basis with full-time workers, in company-sponsored retirement plans. Significant majorities of voluntary (58%) and involuntary part-time workers (65%) support laws requiring employers to pay overtime to anyone who works more than 35 hours in a given week. Raising the minimum wage for part-time workers is supported by 58% of voluntary part-time workers and 64% of those who are working part time involuntarily. A majority of voluntary part-time workers (50%) and involuntary part-timers (55%) say the government should raise the earnings limit for people who are receiving Social Security payments.

News Type: 
Press Release
part-time workers
part-time employment