An army of the involuntarily under-employed

The number of unemployed in California, the rate of unemployment, the average duration of employment: all of these indicators have risen dramatically since 2007. However, there is a less-known job indicator that also has risen dramatically and may have more to do with stalling a job recovery in California than any other: the number of workers involuntarily working part-time.

The table below shows the explosion of involuntary part-time employment in California since summer 2007. It was compiled from data provided by economist Paul Wessen of EDD’s Labor Market Information Division.

Californians Who Work Part-Time But Seek Full Time Work (April 2005-April 2010)

Month/Year Californians Involuntarily Working Part-Time
April 2005    644,000
April 2006    615,000
April 2007    597,000
April 2008    745,000
April 2009    1,191,000
April 2010    1,543,000

As economist Wessen explains, the numbers are part of the Current Population Survey of Households data. Included are workers who work less than 35 hours a week, often considerably less than 35 hours a week, and would prefer to work full-time.

These numbers do not include workers who work less than 35 hours,and prefer to do so. This latter group (students, workers with family responsibilities, workers who choose part-time work as a life-style) is also tracked in the Households Survey, and, in fact, is a larger group, usually double the size of the involuntary part-time employed.

The involuntary part-time employment, though, is of greater concern to policymakers, both for its direct impacts on family income and its impact in slowing California’s job recovery. The most recent monthly state employment numbers released last Friday for April 2010, show California lagging in job creation behind the national rate and behind the rate of other states. The California economy created a net of 14,200 payroll jobs in April 2010, well below such states as Ohio (37,300 jobs), Pennsylvania (34,000 jobs), and New York (32,700 jobs).

As the economy improves in California, many employers will increase the hours of current employees working part-time rather than go out and hire new employees. This makes sense on economic and moral grounds. However, given the large pool of involuntary part-time workers in California, it is one more reason that the job recovery in this state likely will continue its slow pace in 2010.

Michael Bernick is the former director of the state Employment Development Department. This article first appeared on

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