PolitiFact: This year’s job growth mostly part-time, but it’s not that simple

This article was edited for length. To see a complete version and its sources, go to www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/aug/07/susan-collins/susan-collins-says-year-overwhelming-majority-new-/.

“This year, the overwhelming majority of new jobs are part time.” -- Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in a response to the president’s Saturday address on Aug. 3

Policymakers and pundits are spending a lot of time these days talking about part-time jobs — whether they are becoming more common at the expense of full-time jobs, and how problematic that trend could be.

Republicans note that President Barack Obama’s health care law requires larger employers to provide health insurance to their workers, which they say gives companies an incentive to cut workers’ hours so much that they become part-time workers and thus exempt from the health insurance mandate.

And beyond the question of Obamacare’s incentives, some economists worry that since the most recent recession, companies have been unusually willing to hire part-time workers rather than full-time workers.

We recently noticed two seemingly contradictory comments on this topic — one from a Republican, one from a Democrat — and thought it would be worthwhile checking both.

In this item, we will check a claim made by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in a response to one of Obama’s Saturday radio addresses.

“In the past, most new jobs were full-time, but this year the overwhelming majority of new jobs are part-time,” Collins said. “Under this troubling trend, more workers will find their hours and their earnings reduced. Jobs will be lost. This is especially disturbing as our country is still battling high unemployment.”

The other comment we will check separately is by Alan Krueger, the chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers: “Since the Affordable Care Act passed, 90 percent of job growth has been in full-time positions.”

These two comments paint sharply different pictures, so we turned to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For Collins, we looked at the change in full-time and part-time employment between December 2012 and July 2013, then determined which of the two types of employment accounted for a larger share of the increase in overall employment. Here’s the summary:

Date / Full-time employees /Part-time employees

December 2012 / 115,868,000 / 27,502,000

July 2013 / 116,090,000 / 28,233,000

Change, Dec-July / +222,000 / +731,000

So Collins has a point — 77 percent of the increase in employment over this period came from part-time jobs. We think a 3-to-1 ratio qualifies as “overwhelming.”

Still, we will offer a few caveats.

  • A large majority of these jobs are being taken by people who want to work part time. The BLS breaks part-time jobs into two categories — people working part time for economic reasons (meaning they want a full-time job but have to settle for a part-time job), and people working part time for noneconomic reasons (because they prefer a part-time schedule to a full-time schedule).

Date / Part time for economic reasons / Part time for noneconomic reasons

December 2012 / 7,918,000 / 18,763,000

July 2013 / 8,245,000 / 19,128,000

In other words, about 70 percent of people working part time right now are doing so because they want to work part time, not because the economy is forcing them to.

This doesn’t mean there are no problems associated with a rise in part-time jobs — such a shift could make it harder for the recovery to gain momentum, said Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economist. Still, it’s important to point out that most people taking part-time jobs aren’t being forced into those jobs purely because of the economy.

  • Timing matters. If you use a longer time horizon, a large percentage of jobs created were full-time positions. "Over longer periods, a much smaller percentage of job gains have taken the form of part-time jobs," said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution.

In other words, by choosing the time frame carefully, you can find support for either side of this argument.

Our ruling

Collins said, “This year, the overwhelming majority of new jobs are part time.” The statistics show that 77 percent of the increase in jobs between December 2012 and July 2013 consisted of part-time jobs. It’s worth noting that longer time frames show the opposite pattern, and that most of the part-time jobs being created are being taken by people who actually want to work part time. Still, on the numbers, Collins is right, and we rate her claim True.

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