Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Part-Time Work and Workers in the United States: Correlates and Policy Issues

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Part-Time Work and Workers in the United States: Correlates and Policy Issues

Article excerpt


Employment relations in the United States are changing. During the past fifteen years, U.S. work organizations have moved away from the traditional model of employment in which most employees, especially males, were connected to their employers on a full-time, relatively permanent basis. Employees were expected to be loyal and committed to their employers, who reciprocated by granting them job security and long-term employment. Now, jobs are becoming less permanent and less secure. In essence, employment relations have become more "contingent." Contingent employment relations have been defined broadly as those situations in which "individual



not have an explicit or implicit contract for long-term employment or


in which the minimum hours worked can vary in a nonsystematic manner."(1)

Contingent employment relations constitute a sizeable portion of the U.S. labor force. A frequently cited estimate is that between 25 to 30% of all employees in the U.S. civilian labor force, or 29.9 to 36.6 million workers, in 1988 were either part-time workers, temporary workers, contract employees, or independent consultants.(2) These estimates, however, are only approximations because government statistics generally are not collected for contingent workers as a group.(3) Estimating the size of the contingent work force is complicated by the existence of overlap among categories(4) and by the inappropriate classification of all part-time and self-employed persons as "contingent," even though many of them are in stable, long-term work arrangements. In any event, it is generally agreed that the growth rate of temporary and part-time workers exceeded the growth rate of the entire U.S. labor force during the 1980s.(5)

This paper focuses on part-time employment, the most common form of contingent work in the United States, comprising more than half of the contingent work force. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 19.6 million workers worked fewer than 35 hours in 1990, representing 18% of the total U.S. civilian work force of 108.7 million.(6) In 1991, two out of every three U.S. work organizations employed part-time workers.(7) The percentage of part-time workers has grown steadily since 1957, when 12.1% of the civilian labor force worked part time.(8) As Figure 1 shows, most of the growth of part-time employment during the past two decades has occurred among the "involuntary" part-time workers.(9)(figure 1 omitted) In 1990, 4.5% of all workers were involuntary part-timers, compared to the 13.6% of all workers who voluntarily worked part time.(10)

The expansion of contingent employment relations in the United States has brought with it new policy issues and challenges. Laws and institutions intended to provide worker protection were established mainly for full-time, permanent employees. These laws and institutions need to be changed to accommodate the distinctive features of part-time and other forms of contingent work. Unfortunately, data on contingent work are scarce and often inadequate for policy discussions. Most of our information about contingent work comes from nonrepresentative case studies of particular occupations, industries, organizations, or from a small number of labor force surveys that focus almost exclusively on the economic aspects of such work. We know relatively little about noneconomic correlates of part-time jobs, nor do we know much about why people work part time. This paucity of empirical evidence is problematic because part-time work and workers are heterogeneous. This heterogeneity needs to be taken into account in debates about laws and regulatory policies targeted at contingent employment relations.

This paper provides a broad overview of some important correlates of part-time work and workers in the United States. Consistent with general practice, we define part-time work as any job that regularly employs a person less than 35 hours per week. …

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