employment

Few part-timers, but more are working multiple jobs

Jan. 12, 2012 at 7:03 AM ET

Hooray! There are fewer of you working part time. 

Boo! More of you are working multiple jobs. 

The job market continues to be a mixed bag for millions of workers across the country. 

On a positive note, when workers are able to clock in more than 35 hours a week after being forced to take fewer hours because of the tough economy, that’s good news for the economy and for employees. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the number of part-time workers in the United States working reduced hours because they couldn’t get full-time work or had their hours reduced by their employers, declined by 371,000 to 8.1 million in December. 

It’s unclear, however, whether this latest government data on part-timers is a light at the end of the crummy labor market tunnel, or continued murkiness. The agency doesn’t track whether those individuals ended up with full-time gigs, or lost their part-time jobs. 

“It could be that some people working part time involuntarily had their hours restored to full time or it could also be that they became unemployed,” said Jim Borbely, an economist for the BLS. 

Despite this, Borbely said the dip in part timers could indicate “a labor picture that’s improving” because the overall number of jobless in December declined to 13.3 million from 14.3 million in the same month last year. 

Not everyone is hopeful. 

“I hate to be a cynic, but I want to look behind the numbers,” said Ellen Ernst Kossek, a human resources professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources & Labor Relations. “Are they making the same money they did before, or did they take full-time jobs at lower wages. It’s about the quality of those jobs.” 

In addition, she pointed out that more and more employees are taking on multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. “A lot of companies are holding the line on wages for hourly workers and on overtime,” she said, and that’s forced many people to take on additional work. 

More than 7 million Americans were working two or more jobs in December, according to the BLS. That ups from 6.8 million in 2010 and 6 million in 2009. 

“Multiple jobs means increased stress and complexity for workers and that’s not good for health and families,” she maintained. “Longer term, we need better quality jobs, economically.” 

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