Another number was also updated: the number of people involuntarily underemployed. This increased by 19,000 from June to July and now totals 8,245,000 people. This means that nearly 6 percent of the American labor force wants to work full time (35 hours a week or more) but simply cannot find a job that will give them that many hours.
While unemployment, then, may have reached a five-year low, underemployment is on the rise. A report released in July from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute found that “the single largest five-year increase in involuntary part-time employment since the 1970s occurred between 2007 and 2012.” This increase has continued through 2013 and affects workers of a great variety of skill sets. Working part-time generally involves lower pay, fewer benefits, and less job security—all factors that increase the likelihood that a part-time worker will live in poverty.
In fact, one in four involuntary part-time workers lived in poverty in 2012, according to the report. Of full-time workers, just one in 20 lived in poverty. A large chunk of the underemployed are recent college graduates, according to a Reuters poll that revealed that more than 40 percent of recent grads are “underemployed or need more training to get on a career track.” A third of recent graduates earn $25,000 or less, according to that poll.
The Carsey Institute report cites economist Chris Tilly, who argues, “Federal law should ensure that part-time workers receive a benefit package equivalent to that of full-timers, benefits that would be prorated to reflect the differences in hours worked.” Policies that ensure safer and more secure working conditions for part-time workers may decrease the number of part-time positions employers chose to offer, since employers would then save less than they currently do when they keep shifts below 35 hours a week. But for now, involuntary underemployment remains a symptom of an American workforce that is not living up to its potential.