To take a closer look at the consumer economy, Kai Ryssdal headed out into the field to run errands, and talk with workers in the part-time economy. Most of the employees at the running store he went to were working just under full-time hours. - 

All this week we're looking at what this economy we all live in actually looks like -- and how it doesn't really work right without us, the consumer. It's our money -- spent on basically everything -- that makes our economy go 'round. The question in our series is whether we can actually afford all this in the long run. Because remember, all that borrowing and spending got us into a whole mess of trouble just a few years ago. So, is our consumer economy sustainable?

You can hear one answer to that question in a conversation I had with a guy named Chad, who works at that hardware store in the Los Angeles area. He's been working there for about two months, part-time -- just under 30 hours a week.

"I would love full-time -- absolutely -- but they don't have any," he said.

How does he get by on that? "I have a second job. I don't get sick, and I don't get hurt."

Chad and his job, is part of what's called "efficiency innovation." Businesses -- strapped for cash or not -- are using more part-time workers, fewer workers, workers they can schedule for "just in time shifts."

As of March 2013, there are 5.8 million fewer Americans working full-time than when the recession officially began in December 2007. The number of Americans working part-time has risen by 2.8 million. Bureau of Labor Statistics/Haver Analytics

The industries that are producing the most new jobs: retail, restaurants, hospitality, health care -- are also producing the most part-time and temporary jobs in this economy.

They're jobs that don't have health insurance...  or benefits...  or really any job security. As that kind of insecure work spreads, it's creating a different type of consumer.

Listen to stories from Marketplace's Adriene Hill and Sarah Gardner about just what kind of consumer that is.

Consumed tile

 Can we afford the consumer economy? Marketplace explores how we consume, what we get from it, what it costs and whether we can keep it up. 

Explore the whole series and play the game.


To get a better handle on how insecure work impacts consumers, we asked listeners to fill in the blank for us: You know you have a good job when...

Here are some of our favorite responses.

Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal