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Part-time jobs accounted for 40% of US job growth in May

Karen Ho

The US labor market is growing again after shedding millions of jobs in March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of people working part-time and full-time grew by 3.8 million in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers suggest efforts to restart the US economy are working as several states and metropolitan areas reopen many types of businesses. But they also point to a slow recovery: about 40% of the new jobs, or 1.6 million, were part-time.

Part-time positions often pay less than full-time employment. They don’t offer benefits like health insurance and paid leave, and are more unstable.

It’s also unclear from the data what may be behind May’s growth in part-time jobs. The only breakdown the BLS provides is for “economic” and “non-economic” reasons. The agency defines economic reasons as “slack work or unfavorable business conditions, inability to find full-time work, or seasonal declines in demand.” Non-economic reasons have to do with “childcare problems, family or personal obligations, school or training, retirement or Social Security limits on earnings”.

In May, the number of people working part-time for non-economic reasons went up 17% from April. The number of those working part-time due to economic reasons, meanwhile, fell a little more than 2%.

The increase in part-time workers for non-economic reasons may be due to women and other care providers switching from full-time to part-time work to meet family obligations like childcare, said Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe, president of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race, a non-profit research organization. However, it’s unclear exactly how many people are making this employment choice because the BLS does not provide additional levels of data—such as industry, race, gender, marital, or parental status—in its standard releases.

“This makes it difficult to figure out the causes, consequences, and potential solutions,” said Sharpe.

Correction: An earlier version of this article compared labor data from two different surveys, leading to a mathematical error. In May, the number of people working part-time and full-time grew by 3.8 million, of which about 40% were part-time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Household Survey.

 

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