What involuntary part-time work reveals about the economy

What involuntary part-time work reveals about the economy

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly jobs report showed a slight rise in unemployment, 315,000 jobs had been added to the economy and wage growth slowed slightly. Those are all signs that the hot job market that frustrates the Federal Reserve may be starting to calm down.

The jobs report is always packed with data, so here’s something we couldn’t get to last week: “involuntary part-time workers” aka “people who “work part-time for economic reasons” aka “I’d rather have a full-time gig, but I can’t find one.” .” In August, just over 4 million Americans fit into that category.

When we want to measure the pulse of the labor market, we often look at the overall unemployment rate. But that number isn’t everything.

“Any measure has to be rather crude, right?” said Cornell economist Erica Groshen, who formerly headed the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The unemployment rate counts anyone who has worked for at least one hour during the reference week as employed.”

Even if those people would have preferred to work 40 hours, but were unable to do so “because of either the employer’s inability to give them the normal number of hours, or their own inability to find a full-time job,” Groshen added. .

According to Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, the level of involuntary part-time work gives us an idea of ​​how much slack or unfulfilled potential there is in the job market.

“If that number is lower” — as it has been in recent years — “it means there are more opportunities and fewer people rushing to get extra hours,” Gould said.

That’s good news for employees, who have many options and additional leverage over employers, Gould said.

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