PBS Newshour: Positive jobs report may not reassure Americans with part-time work

Originally published by PBS Newshour
November 7, 2014

Photo by Joe Raedle, Getty Images

JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest jobs report provides fresh evidence of improved hiring throughout 2014. But, even so, it’s a different kind of labor market, one that has not seen strong wage growth and has forced many into part-time work.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has been looking into those trends. It’s part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN: Pittsburgh’s Dan Stillwell, one of 147 million Americans counted as employed last month.

MAN: I work around 50 hours a week.

PAUL SOLMAN: Alex Stipula is another.

MAN: I work about 40 hours a week, just about.

PAUL SOLMAN: To economist Justin Wolfers, the employment picture for workers across the country was even brighter than reported in October, for at least two reasons.

JUSTIN WOLFERS, Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics: The labor market was pretty good. Now, the headlines don’t look quite so sunny. They say 214,000 jobs were created this month, which is less than has been created in the last few months.


JUSTIN WOLFERS: But once you dig into the details, you start to see the good news.

PAUL SOLMAN: What details?

JUSTIN WOLFERS: The first is, the government actually runs two surveys. The employer survey gets all the attention. It probably should. It’s a better survey. But the household survey actually said it was a monstrously good month in October. It said 650,000 jobs were created. It surely wasn’t that good. So we should discount it, but we shouldn’t throw it away altogether.

PAUL SOLMAN: And the second point?

JUSTIN WOLFERS: This was the first estimate of what happened in October. And the government statisticians are going to go back and try and figure out what really happened when they get more information. September’s pretty good number turned out to be even better. And I think that there’s every reason to think that October’s meh — meh sort of a number might actually turn out to be revised and be pretty strong.

PAUL SOLMAN: But even today’s numbers meant a ninth straight month of 200,000-plus new jobs. And growth was broad-based, gains in food and drink jobs, retail, health care, business services. Unemployment rate? The lowest since 2008.

Yet the good news doesn’t match the American mood. In Election Day exit polls, two-thirds of us said the economy was getting worse. One possible reason: wages, which grew a paltry 3 cents an hour in October, less than the rate of inflation. But another reason could be that a fifth of the work force remains employed part-time.

Look, says Wolfers:

JUSTIN WOLFERS: If you’re on for an hour, you’re counted as having a job.

PAUL SOLMAN: What’s more, the official unemployment rate excludes seven million part-timers who say they want a full-time job, but just can’t find one. And it turns out that the government actually understates the number of part-timers.

JUSTIN WOLFERS: The way we think about, do you work full time is, do you usually work more than 35 hours a week? If you work 20 hours at one job and 15 at another, that adds up to 35, let’s call you full-time, but we will call both of those jobs part-time.

PAUL SOLMAN: Take Alex Stipula.

MAN: I work three jobs. I work as a prep cook at a restaurant. I work at P.T. Crystal engraving glass and crystal, and I also work at Club Cafe, checking I.D.s and kind of like a bouncer. I don’t get any benefits. And I make $10 an hour at all three of them.

PAUL SOLMAN: Stipula is one of 1.2 million Americans working only part-time jobs, almost none of them with benefits, and yet they’re all classified as full-time because they work 35 hours a week or more in total.

MAN: I work seven days a week.

PAUL SOLMAN: Dan Stillwell works at grocery store GFS Marketplace.

MAN: I work 28 hours a week, making $8.70 an hour, and my second job is with Ikea. I work there about 19 hours a week, making nine-and-a-quarter an hour.

PAUL SOLMAN: Even Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman was surprised to learn that part-timers like Stillwell, who works almost 50 hours a week, are officially full-time workers.

PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times: OK, I didn’t know that. That makes sense actually in part of the broader context, which is that unemployment doesn’t look that high, but the labor, the situation of workers doesn’t feel anything like full employment.

PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, many young people in our own newsroom managed multiple gigs before landing one full-time position at the “NewsHour,” like multimedia editor Ellen Rolfes.

ELLEN ROLFES, PBS NewsHour: I worked at one point three different jobs that totaled about 65 hours a week. Even though I was working more than 35 hours, I didn’t think of myself as a full-time worker, because I think of full-time work as a job that has benefits, sick days, paid vacations, health care hopefully. And I didn’t get any of those with any of my jobs.

PAUL SOLMAN: Nor does Dan Stillwell.

MAN: I would like to have one job with benefits, work 40 hours, and pay my bills and be able to save up for retirement. I won’t be able to stop working until I die, you know?

PAUL SOLMAN: In the end, today’s positive news may do little to reassure the more than a million Americans in part-time jobs working 35 a week or more.

I’m Paul Solman for the “PBS NewsHour.”