Underemployment of Part-Time Workers Much Higher than Thought, Especially by Race, Gender

Washington, DC, February 27—Today, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) released data using a new measure showing that underemployment among part-time workers is much higher than what the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. Moreover, the underemployment rate is disproportionately higher than previously known for many categories of part-time workers, including along race, ethnic, and gender lines, as well as in key low-wage occupations.

“The new measure includes part-time workers who prefer more work hours, not just those who want a full-time job. Underemployment Just Isn’t Working for U.S. Part-time Workers characterizes these as ‘part-time and underemployed’ workers, and we find a rate of 8-11 percent using this measure, which is double the rate of the narrower BLS measure for underemployment,” said Pronita Gupta, director of job quality, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

The part-time underemployment rate varies significantly across different types of workers:

  • Black and Latinx workers. 14 percent of Latinx workers and 12 percent of Black workers, compared to 7 percent of white workers.
  • Youngest and oldest workers. 21 percent of workers age 26 and under and 15 percent of those age 65 and over, while underemployment is no less than 6 percent for any one age bracket.
  • Women and people who are not married. 11 percent of women, compared to 7 percent for men, 14 percent of non-married workers, compared to 5 percent of those who are married.
  • Workers in the lowest third of family incomes. 21 percent for workers in the lowest third of family income, compared to only 4 percent of people in middle/higher income levels.
  • Workers paid hourly. 12 percent of hourly paid part-time workers, which is in stark contrast to 2 percent of those paid a salary.
  • Workers with variable work schedules. 15 percent of workers with variable schedules vs. 7 percent of those with fixed schedules.
  • Workers in certain industries. 15 percent in leisure/other services; 13 percent in education/health services; 12.5 percent in transportation; and, 9 percent in wholesale/retail trade.
  • Workers in relatively lower wage occupations. 21 percent in service jobs; 11 percent in transportation/materials moving; and, 10 percent in sales and related jobs.

Underemployment Just Isn’t Working closes with a set of wide-ranging policy recommendations to curb some of the causes and harms of underemployment. These recommendations include, among others:

  • Expand fair workweek laws
  • Increase the minimum wage and strengthen the Equal Pay Act
  • Enhance collective bargaining
  • Increase access to paid leave
  • Expand public benefits eligibility without work reporting rules

“Despite low overall unemployment numbers, our paper shows what we have known all along—workers earning low wages are struggling. This paper provides evidence that underemployment among part-time workers is a growing problem that we must address to ensure these workers’ economic security,” said Gupta.

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The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions for people with low incomes. CLASP’s solutions directly address the barriers people face because of their race, ethnicity, and immigration status.