Millions of Americans Piece Together Part-Time Jobs to Get By

(The Kansas City Star/MCT) —

Part-time. Temporary. Contract. Just-in-time. Two jobs. Three jobs. Even four.

It’s the new normal for many in the American workforce.

Monte Railey divides time as city clerk for Missouri City, Mo., as an elementary school handyman, as a laborer for a remodeler, and as a hardware store clerk.

Since the Great Recession and subsequent “jobless recovery,” it’s less likely than it used to be that you or your neighbor holds a single, full-time job.

Today, there are more people like Terrance Wise of Kansas City, Mo., who, after a 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift at a Burger King, often takes a city bus to a Pizza Hut for a 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift. He works at one or both locations every day of the week.

“One of the hardest parts is missing family,” Wise said. “My children are 11, 10 and 8, and they know Daddy has to go to work every day.”

Other drawbacks: It’s hard to look for a better job when he’s always working, Wise said. And he dreads getting sick or injured. He said he can’t afford health insurance, and the last time he had a routine checkup was 14 years ago.

And there are more workers like Concepcion Sanchez, who, after a full day at an insurance company job in downtown Kansas City, heads out immediately to a second, part-time job at a bank.

“I’m helping my kids with their college and other expenses,” said the 46-year-old woman. “I’m lucky to have the energy.”

The harder part, Sanchez said, is the loss of family time. Her husband, a machine operator, works seven days a week on mandatory overtime.

It’s easy to see why the work world has changed. Stung by the depths of the economic downturn and uncertain about taxes, government spending and the consumer pocketbook, employers increasingly are choosing greater flexibility in hiring.

Because they’re hesitant about adding full-time employees, employers are turning to a contingent, or just-in-time, workforce. It’s easier that way to staff up or down and schedule work shifts precisely when needed.

A part-time or contingent workforce allows for more than efficient scheduling. Employers also save on benefits costs, which generally are paid to full-time employees but not part-time or as-needed workers. It’s a big savings: In many organizations, benefits account for 30 percent of payroll costs.

Post-2009, many employers also have cut or held the line on employee pay – effectively propelling some full-time workers to moonlight. Household living costs have risen, even if paychecks haven’t.

These hiring patterns make sense for employers, but they’re stinging job hunters and workers alike. Unable to find or replace full-time positions, workers have seen their household incomes dwindle along with their self-confidence. The new normal finds MBAs scrambling for part-time work in the aisles of big-box retailers.

To be sure, this new normal suits some workers just fine. Juggling family care or school is easier when work hours are reduced or flexible.

Nicole Dingley loves her part-time work with a publishing company. It gives her mom time with her three children. As a bonus, she works out of her home.

Another contented part-timer is Mary Wilkens. She’s happy that her substitute teaching work lets her spend time with her mother or pursue creative outlets. For her, it’s far preferable to full-time or unwanted retirement.

Even Railey, 57, who sometimes recalls the relative ease of holding just one job – his former position at AT&T, where he worked for 26 years – instead of his current four, is content juggling jobs.

“My cash flow is definitely down from my AT&T days, but that’s OK,” Railey said. “There’s some enjoyment in doing so many different things.”

Would he jump to take a full-time job?

“I’m not averse to it,” Railey said. But after a disappointing job search that began after he left AT&T in 2010, he’s fine with his current circumstances.

But for many, that kind of job-juggling is hard. It rips into bank accounts, personal time and health. Involuntary part-timers repeatedly said they never imagined this is what their work lives would be. They thought their college degrees or their work experiences would insulate them from underemployment.

Chris Cobb expected to find work in 2011 after earning a bachelor’s degree in social work. No luck. With student loans piling up, he became a $9-an-hour bank teller a year ago, and then added a restaurant job where he earns about $20 to $40 a night for a few hours a couple of evenings a week.

“If I didn’t get a job, we wouldn’t eat,” said the 26-year-old Grandview, Mo., resident, whose wife also holds part-time jobs while finishing up a criminal justice degree. He’s one of tens of thousands of young people whose careers didn’t get started as planned.

“It’s a little heartbreaking, not to lie,” Cobb said. “I thought I’d go to college, get a degree and the good job would come. Now, I’m working jobs that require high school equivalency. Not finding a job in my field is something we never counted on.”

Recession-driven layoffs also have put many mature workers in the “I never counted on this” camp.

Peck, 61, a Roeland Park, Kan., resident, experienced two layoffs, the first in 2005, after which she quickly became re-employed. But after the second job loss in 2009, she spent a year looking for work.

“I put out hundreds of applications and had some interviews,” she said. “I finally ended up taking a home-based job with a company based in Toronto for just five hours a week. They said they got 1,000 applications for that job.”

She works on contract as a grant administrator for that employer, an insurance company, and her hours have risen to 35 a week, but she doesn’t get health care benefits. And even though she downsized to a smaller home, she needs her additional part-time jobs, too.

“Altogether, my income is about half of what it was when I had my last corporate job,” Peck said. “I guess it’s the new normal, I’m afraid.”

The outlook isn’t entirely dour. As the economy stumbles toward job creation, some involuntary part-timers are landing full-time hours.

Terry Runyan had been cobbling together a bus monitor job, a restaurant server job, a phone book delivery job and, during the baseball season, a fan photographer gig at a baseball stadium. But, after more than a year of searching, the 46-year-old man started in October at a 40-hour-a-week, $10-an-hour deli job at a new Fresh Market grocery.

“I always felt there was a full-time position out there somewhere,” Runyan said. “I couldn’t give up.”

Likewise, Deborah Gleissner is a grateful full-time pharmacy technician for Wal-Mart Stores, a job she got this summer after 17 months of part-time work at Target and CVS.

“It’s great. It’s wonderful. I love having a regular schedule,” Gleissner said this month.

The New Normal, By the Numbers:

– The as-needed workforce: According to federal government figures, about one-third of American workers are classified as contingent, which means they are temporary, freelance, contract or consulting workers rather than traditional payroll employees.

A survey by Staffing Industry Analysts of large employers (with at least 1,000 employees) found they expected nearly 1 in 5 of their workers this year to be temporary, contract or freelance.

– The part-time share: About 1 in 5 jobs are part-time, defined by the federal government as working less than 35 hours a week.

– The rise of the temp: Since the recession ended four years ago, the number of temporary jobs has grown by 50 percent, a growth rate that exceeds all other hiring sectors. Temp jobs account for 1 in 5 jobs created since the recession ended.

– The job creators: More than half of the net job creation nationally in some recent months has been in relatively low-wage positions such as retail and restaurant work, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. These industries also dominate as providers of part-time jobs. The average work week for restaurant staff, for example, was between 25 and 26 hours a week at midyear.

– Some prefer part-time: Part-time is the preferred work choice for about 14 percent of U.S. workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That’s greater than the combined percentage of those who are working part-time because they couldn’t find a full-time job or had their hours reduced or were otherwise involuntarily working part-time hours.

– Affordable Care Act effect: Some large employers – those with at least 50 full-time employees – will be required in 2015 to offer health insurance benefits to employees who work at least 30 hours a week. That mandate is motivating some employers to limit workers to less than 30 hours a week, the effect of which could be to increase the part-time workforce or to limit the income of employees who had been getting more hours. Exact counts and motivations aren’t yet known.


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