Thursday, August 21, 2014

America's Involuntary Part-Time Workforce

Updated October 2014

While various members of the Federal Reserve system pontificate about the United States economy and how their monetary policy has been effective in preventing an economic collapse, there is little doubt that their experiment has been less than a success when it comes to America's employment situation, particularly among those that have only been able to get part-time employment for economic reasons.

Here is a graph from FRED showing how the number of non-agricultural workers that are part-time employed for economic reasons is still elevated:

Just before the Great Recession, there were about 4.2 million involuntary part-time workers.  This rose rapidly to 9.119 million in March 2010, an increase of 117 percent.  In July 2014, that number had fallen to 7.203 million, a drop of 1.916 million or 21 percent.  If we use the non-seasonally adjusted figures, there are 7.083 million involuntary part-time workers.  Over the four year period between August 2010 and August 2014 and despite the Fed's "heroic" monetary policy efforts, the number of part-time workers that would rather be working full-time but cannot because there are no jobs for them has only dropped by 1.5 million.  You will also note that the number of involuntary part-time workers is still higher than at any time between 1955 and the present.

Let's look at a graph that shows the number of involuntary part-time workers as a percentage of the entire non-farm workforce since the workforce has obviously expanded over time:

Just before the beginning of the Great Recession, around 3 percent of the workforce was involuntarily working part-time.  This more than doubled to just over 7 percent in early 2010 and has fallen back to its current level of 5.2 percent which is still higher than it was over the period from 1993 to 2009.  You'll also notice that after every recession (areas shaded in grey) that the number of involuntary part-time workers dropped very rapidly within the first 12 months after the end of the recession.  This is not the case since the Great Recession ended in mid-2009.  In fact, if you look back at the period around the year 2000 when involuntary part-time workers made up only 2.3 percent of the workforce, it is obvious how ineffective the Federal Reserve's current monetary policies have been at really putting America back to work.

The appearance of an improving employment picture in the United States is, in part, smoke and mirrors.  The monthly BLS statistics are skewed by a shrinking labor force participation rate and a high number of workers whose potential is not being fully utilized because the economy simply is not creating enough full-time jobs to keep America fully employed.  So much for the Fed's experiment.

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