Friday, January 9, 2015

The Real State of Employment in America

While the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics data release makes it appear as though the U.S. employment situation is relatively healthy, millions of Americans would suggest otherwise.  

Let's open with a graph that shows the number of jobs created (and lost) each month since just before the Great Recession took hold:

On average, since the beginning of 2010, the economy has created 175,559 jobs every month.  Hurray, the unemployment crisis is over and all is well in the United States!

Now, let's look at a graph that shows the number of American workers who are working part-time (i.e. less than 35 hours per week) for economic reasons, that is, they want full-time work but can't find any because the economy simply isn't creating enough full-time jobs (i.e. they were underemployed):

That is not particularly healthy looking, is it?  Over the decades from 1955 to the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2008, there were an average of 3.869 million American workers who were underemployed for economic reasons.  Since the beginning of the Great Recession, the number of American workers who were underemployed has average 7.945 million, more than twice the number in the decades prior to 2008.  

During the Great Recession, the number of underemployed Americans rose from 4.618 million in December 2007 to a peak of 9.216 million in March 2010, an increase of 99.6 percent.  Since then, the number of underemployed Americans has dropped 6.85 million, leaving the level still 48.3 percent above its pre-recession level.  In other words, if we compare the current number of underemployed Americans to the level just prior to the Great Recession, we find that there are still 2.232 million more American workers who are working part-time because they simply can't find a job than there were prior to the last economic contraction.

As we can see on this graph, as a percentage of all non-farm employees in the United States, the number of part-time workers who want full-time work is still extremely high and has shown modest improvement since the end of the last recession:

While the economy is creating jobs, it's creating the kind of jobs that pay relatively poorly and have no job security.   As Gallup has noted, only 44.3 percent of American adults are employed full-time, excluding those who are self-employed and those who are out of the workforce.  Those who are working part-time for economic reasons often find themselves in jobs that younger workers would normally filled, jobs that provide little opportunity to "get ahead".  With the average duration of unemployment still at severely elevated levels as shown on this graph: is unlikely that the situation for America's involuntary part-time workers will improve anytime soon.


  1. When they say the economy has improved, one needs to ask, "Whose economy?"

  2. So, I suppose it's too much to ask that people work 2 part-time jobs? If they're so desperate for more working hours, GET ANOTHER PT JOB! Disprove this: 2 20 hour a week jobs = 1 40 hour a week job.

    1. I think that the problem is that part-time jobs pay less, are less secure and often come with no benefits. So, two part-time jobs are still not as good as one full-time job.

      Thanks for making me think for a minute.

    2. Except PT pays less and has no benefits.

    3. Two part-time jobs also means more travel time and cost as well a scheduling issues. Far from the best of both worlds

    4. 1 40hr week job + 10-20 hrs OT is more than 3 times more lucrative than 3 part-time jobs.

  3. I work a full time job with benefits and a part time job paying 10$. Its easy to say get a 2nd part time job but most part time jobs want their employees to have open schedules so they can fill in as needed to cover others shifts and what not. So yes you can have 2 part time jobs but if your inflexible with your schedule well you might only get 10 hours at one and 14 at the others for 24 hours for the week at near min wage. Or you can have an open availability and get a steady 29 hours a week every week. Its easy to tell others what to do but when your in the situation that you need the job and they(the job) are pressuring you to be available its hard to then tell the job that no you can't work at such and such a time becuase of some other commitment, they just don't want to hear that.

  4. Part time is not so bad if you have benefits. My wife and I worked half time for 35 years at a university, with health and retirement benefits. It was somewhat better than one full time job, at least for the retirement benefits.

  5. Great article pointing out a big problem that many people are trying to gloss over. We must face the harsh reality that the long term implications of poor job creation are massive. We are seeing that a huge number of people have dropped out of the work force and others locked in low paying jobs. Often these people have little in the way of savings, this means the burden of caring for them will be transferred to society. If to many people shift into this category we will slowly wear down through attrition. Finding a fair way to share and balance the work load that goes on every day is one of the most important problems facing our modern world.

    Failure to discover a solution to this dilemma bodes poorly for our consumer driven economy and adds to the toxic problem of inequality. Many of the numbers and budget projections of the government have been based on far better employment numbers then we are currently facing or will be facing if this continues. The article below looks at the long-term implication of poor job creation and how it will drastically impact in a negative way both the wealth and future of America.