Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Part-Time Work Force Changed Only Modestly Increase among Part-Timers Stems Mostly from Those Who Would Prefer to Be in Full-Time Jobs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Part-Time Work Force Changed Only Modestly Increase among Part-Timers Stems Mostly from Those Who Would Prefer to Be in Full-Time Jobs

Article excerpt

AS temporary agencies flourish and health-care reformers point to the millions of uninsured part-time workers, the fast-growing segment of contingent workers in the United States is taking on Gulliver proportions in the minds of policymakers.

Analysts talk of a permanent structural change under way in the economy as the ballooning number of part-timers brings new liquidity to the work force.

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, speaks of rethinking "many of our traditional assumptions about work, training, pensions...."

Companies talk of adopting "just in time" resource management to hone their competitiveness. And new businesses are being created to handle the growing number of contingent workers.

But a new report on part-time workers suggests that the excitement may be exaggerated. According to the latest brief published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) in Washington, the number of part-time workers has indeed increased sizably over the past 24 years. However, the change as a proportion of the total work force "has been minimal."

Titled "Characteristics of the Part-time Work Force," the report finds that between 1969 and 1993, the part-time work force grew from 15.5 percent to 18.8 percent of the total work force, or 3.3 percentage points.

The modest size of the change even caught the co-authors off guard. "When we first started writing the report, we expected to be saying: `There's this huge increase in part-time employment,' " says Sarah Snider, a research analyst at EBRI. "What the story became was: `Well, it's not as big as we thought.' "

Much of that 3.3 percent increase occurred among what the report calls "involuntary" part-timers - those who would prefer to be in a full-time job, but can only find part-time work. This involuntary crowd constitutes about one-third (29.4 percent) of the part-time work force and has grown almost three times as fast as voluntary part-timers - from 1.8 million in 1969 to 6.1 million in 1993, at an average annual increase of 5.2 percent. Voluntary part-timers, on the other hand, grew from 9 million to 14. …

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