Your business: A part-time economy

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Is the full-time American job going the way of the dodo? The signs aren't exactly heartening.

Consider the June jobs report. The United States added 195,000 new jobs, including 322,000 new part-time jobs -- a number that comprises only part-timers who want full-time work but can't find it. Assuming my grade school arithmetic skills haven't completely eroded, that suggests that the number of full-time jobs actually declined.

Critics of Obamacare have a ready explanation: The 30-hour-a-week cutoff of the now-postponed employer mandate -- which requires many employers to either provide health care coverage for employees who work at least that much or to pay a penalty -- was compelling employers to reduce workers' hours. That mandate, The Wall Street Journal editorialized, gave businesses "an incentive to hire more part-time workers."

If the employer mandate really were the problem, then the lot of the American worker wouldn't look so grim. There is much anecdotal evidence that some employers are cutting workers' hours to avoid the mandate. A closer look at the long-term rise of part-time work, however, makes clear the decline of working hours and the rise of low-wage work reflect structural changes in the U.S. economy.

Of the 195,000 jobs created in June, fully 75,000 came in "leisure and hospitality" -- Labor Department-speak for hotels, restaurants, fast-food joints and bars. Workers in this sector averaged just 26.1 hours a week -- a figure that hasn't changed in the past 12 months.

The move toward part-time work isn't the economy's only epochal shift. Another is the move toward temporary employment. The advantages are clear: Employers are under no pressure to provide raises or benefits to temporary workers, nor are they legally liable if the workers turn out to be undocumented or are hurt on the job.

Left to its own devices, the American economy is eroding the American job.

Hours decline, dragging take-home pay down with them. The identity of the boss becomes mystified, much to the boss's advantage. A government commitment to full employment, backed up by the public investment required to create it, would bolster not just the quantity but also the quality of our jobs. Republicans are dead set against that, however, and most Democrats appear to have abandoned the fight.

So much for the American job.


Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect.


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