Friday, July 24, 2015

The part time worker brouhaha. Most part timers choose to be part time

The part time worker brouhaha

A mini firestorm  between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush  about job creation and part time workers  got me digging  into the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) site to find  just how many part time workers wanted to work full time.  What I found  was  the number of part time workers in June, 2015  seeking full time jobs (two million)   is not a high percentage of either  part timers  or of the total 149 million labor force . While important to each individual affected,  only 10%  of  all part timers were actually seeking full time employment.   78 percent of part timers were part timers  by choice and the rest cited other economic reasons.  
Jeb  Bush, former governor of Florida and now vying for the GOP presidential nomination, started the war of words, when he said “that people need to work longer hours”, meaning that part timers need to become full timers and  there ought to be more full time jobs for those seeking them.  Hillary Clinton seized upon the phrase and in a major economic address said that “what workers wanted was a raise”.
Trend lines based on the BLS statistics also show that the number of those who choose to work part time has remained steady even through the ups and downs of the economy, but that those part timers seeking full time jobs increased especially during the Great Recession of 2008. As the economy has improved, their numbers are still  historically high, but  decreasing.
 An  more explosive political issue of concern to 65% of voters is the unfairness of the distribution of income. Uncontested is the fact that the middle class has “hollowed out”.     Neither party nor candidates can ignore this.  The Democrats will force the GOP to defend their plans to help the middle class  because Democrats  believe their own  proposals have  more potential  appeal to the key factor of “does he/she care about us”.  Expect Democrats to  propose stronger Wall Street reform,  minimum wage increases, expanding pay for overtime,   paid sick leave,  increased affordability of a college education, and  reform taxes so the secretary does not pay a higher percentage than the boss. Most  GOP candidates so far promise to help the middle class by relief to the wealthy and business. That  will be a harder sell to the middle class since recent experience has taught them prosperity does not  automatically trickle down to them.
 Bush claims more full time jobs  can be achieved  by raising growth to 4% per year, though he was vague about  how.  Bush and GOP candidates need to be pinned down on the specifics because the political devil is in those details. Will it be tax policy, welfare, trade and spending cuts?  If so, what gets cut and who benefits?  
Is 4% growth even possible?  Such sustained growth has not happened in most of American history. 5% growth did happen under President Reagan, but many  economists  owe that anomaly  to an expanding workforce  when women began working.  The non partisan Congressional Budget Office projected a 3% growth in 2015-2016 and dip in the long term to 2.2 percent due to baby boomers retiring and a shrinking workforce, a rate similar from 2009 to now.     

A version of this column appeared in the  July 30, 2015     


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