Working Part-Time, but Not for a Long Time
Even workers who choose reduced hours don’t expect to work part-time forever.
- In August 2019, just under half of all involuntary part-time workers between 25 and 54 had moved into full-time jobs, up from 39% who had found full-time work in 2010, according to an Indeed analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
- Some 83% of part-time workers report they are working fewer hours by choice, but 50% of them in an Indeed survey note that they don’t want to work a reduced schedule indefinitely.
- To retain employees in a strong economy, employers turn some part-time jobs into full-time positions. To keep part-timers who prefer reduced hours, full-time jobs can be structured to offer some of the advantages of part-time work, such as scheduling flexibility.
As the US economy has strengthened, part-time work has slowly but steadily declined. Some 15.5% of the labor force works part-time, down from a peak of 17.8% during the depths of the Great Recession. Almost all of that decline is due to the shrinking ranks of those working part-time involuntarily, with 83% of current part-time workers saying they chose reduced hours.
But below the surface a fair amount of churn takes place. Involuntary part-time workers who want 35 or more hours a week would like to leave part-time status. But workers who voluntarily choose to work part-time may change their mind as their personal circumstances change or the economy creates new opportunities or challenges for them.
Indeed surveyed involuntary and voluntary part-timers about their journey into part-time work and their employment expectations. We found that the line between involuntary and voluntary part-time workers is not so neat and clean — even those who don’t seek more hours now are likely to want them in the future.
Involuntary part-time workers want full-time work now — and increasingly are getting it
By August 2019, just under half of all involuntary part-time workers between 25 and 54 — considered prime working age — got full-time hours within a year, according to our analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The share of people going from involuntarily part-time employment to full-time hours has steadily increased since 2010 and accelerated over the past year.
Some 56% of involuntary part-time workers surveyed said that before they started working part-time, they had a full-time job, while 32% were not employed. Asked how they got into part-time work, 34% said they couldn’t find a full-time job. Another 19% initially chose part-time and later decided they would rather work full-time. For another 11%, employers reduced their hours from full- to part-time.
The involuntary part-time workers surveyed had been working a reduced schedule for 25 months on average. Some 64% said they were continuing to seek full-time employment, while 13% reported they had stopped looking for a full-time role after an average search of 13 months. Our survey showed that 84% of involuntary part-timers expect to be employed full-time in the future, with 45% expecting to work a full schedule within a year. Some 34% said their employer had discussed a possible full-time role with them, while 41% thought their employer would offer them a full-time position at some point.
Some 57% of involuntary part-timers said they are working more than one job to make ends meet. Voluntary part-time workers are more confident than involuntary part-timers that they will be able to land a second job if needed. Some 83% said they thought they could find a second job compared with 68% of involuntary part-timers.
Workers who choose part-time status don’t want to stick with it forever
Most part-time workers surveyed said they chose fewer hours. But most of them also said they don’t want to work such a schedule forever.
Some 51% of voluntary part-timers said they were previously employed full-time, while 29% didn’t have a job. Asked why they moved to part-time, 52% said they wanted more flexibility in their lives.
Some 41% of voluntary part-time workers reported they hadn’t expected to be on a reduced schedule for as long as they had been. They expected to work part-time for 19 months on average, though 57% said they had not sought full-time employment. Those who did look for full-time work searched for an average of 10 months.
Some 43% of voluntary part-timers would consider a full-time role if offered. Higher pay, benefits, and a set schedule are the top attractions of a full work week. However, only 20% of such workers had discussed a full-time position with their employer. Of that group, 78% were offered a full-time job, but did not accept it. Still, 50% of voluntary part-timers said they expected to take a full-time role in the future and 71% of them believe they will do so within two years.
A person may prefer to work part-time, but changing personal circumstances can cause them to want more hours. For example, if a member of a part-time worker’s household loses a job, that person may want more hours to make up for the household’s lost income, a common scenario in a recession. In addition, when the labor market weakens, more workers move from voluntarily to involuntarily part-time status, while the reverse occurs when the economy recovers.
Conclusion: Steps for employers
Employers that have a lot of part-time workers often face the question of how to retain part-timers who want to transition to full time. In a strong economy, a good option may be to turn a part-time job into a full-time position.
The problem is different when employees prefer part-time work, but employers want to move them into full-time roles. In those cases, employers can build some of the perceived advantages of part-time work into full-time jobs, such as scheduling flexibility.
In July 2019, Indeed surveyed 1,780 U.S. adults employed part-time. Of those, 64% said they were voluntary part-time workers and 36% said they were involuntary. The average age was 39 for voluntary part-time workers and 37 for involuntary part-timers. The survey was conducted at 95% confidence at a +/- 2% margin of error.
All 50 states in the United States were represented in the full survey, with Vermont missing from the voluntary part-time respondents and Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Wyoming from the involuntary part-timers.
A full description of the methodology used to calculate the flow rates from BLS data can be found in this Hiring Lab post.
Nick Bunker is the Economic Research Director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab who focuses on the U.S. labor market. He was previously a Senior Policy Analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, an economics think tank. Prior to that, Nick was a Research Assistant at the Center for American Progress. He holds a B.S.F.S. in international economics from Georgetown University.