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Zoom in on jobs: Is part-time work the new normal?

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Looking for a fresh story in the jobs' market? Take a close look at part-time workers.

With the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly employment situation release due out Friday — and more headline fodder than usual due to election politics — you may be in the market for a jobs story angle.

One area worth a focus is that of part-time workers, especially those involuntarily working less than a full-time position.  According to Table A-8 from last month’s employment situation report, some eight million workers were involuntarily employed part-time due to economic reasons, including slack work or that they could only find part-time work.  And here’s another BLS chart, with 2011 figures, showing part-time workforce distribution by industry – predictably, industries with seasonal cycles like retail, hospitality and transportation employ more part-timers than manufacturing and finance. 

Check with the economists at your Bureau of Labor Statistics regional information office — find it on this interactive map – for area-specific reports on part-time employment and wages.  

To find part-time jobs in your area, and to analyze patterns in terms of types of part-time work available and skill levels, use search functions on sites like Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com.  The jobs run the gamut from warehouse work to house-call physicians, which is great from a storytelling angle.

Of course, part-time work affects more than just wages; access to benefits changes for those working less than a 40-hour stint, too.  The Affordable Care Act will change that somewhat — a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released this week finds more employers offering health insurance to part-time workers – but what about vacation and sick pay, and other perks.  It might be interesting to survey employers (or your audience) and post a piece about your market’s employers with the best perks for part-timers.  And as a sidebar or info-box, look up your state’s rules on unemployment insurance for part-time workers. 

Another facet of the part-time jobs story is that of workers holding down multiple jobs to make ends meet. This 2011 New York Times article on the subject is a good template for localizing,  though I would broaden it beyond a focus on recent college grads. Here’s a 2010 BLS analysis that says multiple job holding is steady, with most who moonlight doing so for financial reasons.  Even though the numbers aren’t fresh, it’s worth a read to help you frame the issues and formulate questions for present-day workers and employers. 

In addition to addressing these topics as a reflection of the lagging economic recovery and a form of crisis, you might also talk with experts about a broader look at how the broader notion of employment and earning a living may be changing.  Are we in a sort of post-industrial shift where, rather than relying on one job or employer for income, people increasingly will be cobbling together a livelihood through a combination of part-time jobs, self-employment, temporary work and contracting? 

This notion of a new jobs paradigm, a new structure to the employment world, is not a ground-breaking concept but one worth revisiting; it’ll resonate with readers, especially those earning their livings this way.  Here’s a Reuters video package that calls this trend “the new normal” for the labor market.  How are the needs of your area’s dominant industries shaping this trend?  You might pose these questions to area employers, human resources consultants, management experts and economists at area business schools and other experts. 

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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