Friday, October 24, 2014

Is the part-time jobs reality our economy’s new normal?

8/23/2013

Gone are the days when few older — or even middle-aged — Americans could be found toiling in low-paying, low-skill service jobs. We’re not just talking about Walmart greeters. Today, many jobs filled traditionally by high school and college students, as well as twenty-somethings looking for a foothold on their way up the ladder of life, have been snatched up by older adults desperate for work — any work.

Welcome to the part-time economy.

Gone are the days when few older — or even middle-aged — Americans could be found toiling in low-paying, low-skill service jobs. We’re not just talking about Walmart greeters. Today, many jobs filled traditionally by high school and college students, as well as twenty-somethings looking for a foothold on their way up the ladder of life, have been snatched up by older adults desperate for work — any work.

Welcome to the part-time economy.

While we look optimistically at the apparent local uptick in the housing market, other economic indicators don’t show the flourishing, across-the-board renaissance some voters expected five years ago when they elected a president who promised to turn things around. The so-called “Great Recession” is said to have ended in June 2009 — shortly after President Obama took office — but the average American still is having trouble seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

An unscientific online Herald poll this month at www.ottawaherald.com asked users: “How do you rate the current state of the U.S. economy?” Forty percent answered “Shrinking,” with another 40 percent saying “Stagnant.” Only about 12 percent answered “Growing.”

Why the sour attitude? After all, the Obama administration touted July job numbers as a success story. The national unemployment rate fell to 7.4 percent — a 4 1/2-year low, from 7.6 percent. Well, a closer look at the numbers provided a less rosy outlook. Among the chief reasons for the drop was the reality that Americans dropped off the unemployment rolls in droves — lowering the national rate — because they had given up on finding jobs. There’s confidence for you.

But what about the 162,000 jobs (the fewest since March) added in July? The majority were part-time positions — many created in place of full-time jobs lost during the past five or six years. And it’s not just about employers being unable to pay full-time wages during the continuingly sour economy.

“Analysts say some employers are offering part-time over full-time work to sidestep the new health care law’s rule that they provide medical coverage for permanent workers,” the Associated Press reported. The Obama administration has delayed that unpopular provision for a year — until after the 2014 mid-term elections — but the writing clearly is on the wall for employers. Under the new rules, it doesn’t pay to have full-time workers.

Perhaps that’s why more than 75 percent of new jobs this year have been part-time positions. Lower wages, fewer hours, no health insurance ... Is this a recovery?

Kansans are among those looking for work, with many now attempting to re-enter the workforce after months or years on the sidelines. The result: The Sunflower State’s unemployment rate actually has risen the past three months because job growth can’t keep up with the demand for employment.

“Perhaps a chronically slow-growth economy can’t generate many good-paying jobs — but can produce lots of part-time or lower-wage retail and restaurant work,” the Associated Press speculated somewhat optimistically. It’s an imperfect solution in an imperfect economy.

For those looking for work, a Part-Time Job Fair is planned 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday in the Kansas Union fourth-floor lobby at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. While the event largely is marketed to the traditional field of part-time workers — students — organizers said it is open to anyone seeking such employment at both KU and off-campus businesses.

The fair is designed to simplify the search for work. It’s a sad commentary on our economy when hunting even a decent part-time job becomes a full-time endeavor.

— Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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