Who wants a part-time job?

Lacroix Johnson-Whitecalf at the Worksource Oregon office in Portland. Like more than 8 million Americans, Johnson-Whitecalf is looking for full-time work, but has only found part-time work for now. He is 40, has three children, and is doing insurance sales part-time by phone. He's worked in warehousing and manufacturing and hopes to find full-time work in one of those fields again.

There was lots of good news in the latest employment report. But for part-timers looking for full-time work, it was another lousy month. The number of people who were at part-time jobs, when they wanted full-time ones, jumped by 322,000 to 8.2 million, according to the monthly household survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some of the disappointed job seekers had their full-time hours cut back, others were simply unable to land a full-time job.

“I’m working part-time and trying to get the difference made up, because I was working full-time and that job has ended,” says Lacroix Johnson-Whitecalf.

He’s 40 years old, with three children -- two of them still in school. He’s had full-time work in the past -- in warehousing and high-tech manufacturing. Now, he’s selling insurance and security services part-time by phone. He earns just above minimum wage.

Johnson-Whitecalf was at the Oregon Employment Department’s Worksource office in Portland recently to get help finding a better -- hopefully full-time -- job. He’s looking for something in warehousing or manufacturing, which he says can pay a living wage to help support his family.

“It’s hard to find a single job at one place full-time,” he says. “Ten years ago, I could go out and get all kinds of jobs real easy. So that is what I’m looking for -- where you could just stay on for 20 years and build your career.”

June’s 300,000-plus jump in reluctant part-time workers could reflect monthly variations. Even so, the situation has barely improved in the past two years. People forced to take part-time work for economic reasons, jumped dramatically at the start of the recession -- from just over 4 million during 2007, to 9 million by early 2010 -- and then gradually dropped to about 8 million at the end of 2011. This month’s number is only nominally better.

Carl Van Horn directs the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. He says the increase in involuntary part-time workers is primarily a result of the deep recession, and slow, weak recovery in employment since then.

“We have all these workers who are underemployed,” says Van Horn. “And I think it also reflects employers’ caution in hiring full-time workers. There’s still a lot of anxiety. Or, they may have found that they don’t need a full-time worker and they’re just being very careful.”

Van Horn says employers can use part-timers to increase workplace flexibility, and save money -- generally, these workers get fewer benefits. He also says there’s a potential downside for employers. Once the employee is trained, he or she might not be as productive, at just 20 or 30 hours a week on the job.

And there’s always the temptation to jump ship for something better. One reason many economists have cited as a possible cause of the increase in involuntary part-time work is the new health care law.

Economist Michael Strain at the American Enterprise Institute explains that provisions that kick in soon create reasons for employers to hire more part-timers, to maintain current employees as part-time rather than bump them up to full-time, and possibly even to drop employees’ hours to less than 30-per-week. It may also encourage small employers with just under 50 employees to keep their head count below 50, to avoid employer penalties under the ACA.

“The Affordable Care Act offers a couple of incentives to keep people working part-time,” says Strain. “One is that employers are not required to provide health insurance to part-time workers, only to full-time workers.”

Enforcement of that requirement has been postponed one year, until 2015, by the Obama administration. But the delay won’t necessarily encourage employers to change their tactics and bring more workers on full-time.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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