Why Part-Time Work Is Shifting to Older Generations

Anna Williams

part-time workersWhen you hear “part-time job,” what probably comes to mind is a teenager or a college student working an after-school gig to earn extra spending cash.

But according to a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, there’s been a dramatic shift in who’s taking on part-time jobs. The number of young part-time workers (ages 16-24) has decreased over the last few decades—dropping from 23% of the total workforce in the late 1970s to just over 12% today.

And yet, as a whole, part-time work has increased. So who’s filling the void left by these younger workers? Increasingly, older, unmarried Americans—specifically, those ages 25 to 54 with a high-school degree or less—are taking on those jobs with fewer than 35 hours a week.

The only problem is that workers are relying on their part-time jobs to pay the bills, but these gigs don’t deliver the same paychecks as a full-time job would.

“The burden of part-time work has shifted to older people,” Rob Valletta, of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, told CNBC. “You see a 40-year-old who has a family and working part-time now. That’s a lot different than a teenager who’s living with their parents.”

Why the Shift?

The study reports that the recession—and its aftermath—is likely still leading to this high rate of part-time work for older Americans. So the change in this demographic is largely due to the economic climate as many older workers, unable to secure full-time positions, are involuntarily choosing part-time employment to help make ends meet.

There’s also been a lot of speculation that the increase in part-time jobs could be a byproduct of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as employers attempt to use part-time positions as a way of averting the 50 full-time employee threshold, after which they must provide health benefits or pay a penalty.

RELATED: The 2014 Health Care Cost Forecast 

But the study reports that the effect of the ACA will probably be minimal, and will likely lead to just a 1% to 2% increase in part-time jobs, even when the program is completely implemented.

Overall, Valletta is hopeful that this high rate of part-time work is only temporary, and predicts that the situation will actually improve—just as soon as the economy makes a full recovery. “It’s just going to take a while for the job market to get better,” he told CNBC.

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