Related BLS programs | Related articles
February, 1986, Vol. 109, No. 2
who are they?
Although typically pictured as working 40 hours a week, the American work force includes a substantial number of persons who put in far fewer hours. Young people working while attending school, parents juggling childrearing and career responsibilities, those in retirement wishing to remain partly active in the work force, and workers whose hours have been reduced because of economic conditions are examples of persons who either choose or have to settle for part-time employment.
Because of the variety of situations found in the workplace, labor market analysts who study part-time employment have sometimes found it a difficult concept to define. Although the official government definition of part-time work is clear, estimating the number of part-time workers is more complex. It depends on exactly what is being measuredthe total number of persons who worked part-time hours during the survey reference week, the number who choose to work part-time hours, or the number who typically work part time.
Each month the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes data on the number of hours worked by persons during the survey reference week and considerable detail about persons who work less than 35 hours a weekthe official boundary between full- and part-time employment.1 The data collected include both the reasons people work less than 35 hours as well as their usual full- or part-time status. To reflect the diversity of the workplace, BLS disaggregates the data about people at work less than 35 hours into three subgroups: (1) those voluntarily at work part time, (2) those working part time for economic reasons, and (3) those who usually work full time but worked less than 35 hours during the reference week because of holiday, illness, vacation, or similar reasons. These data are combined with information on several other groupingspersons at work more than 35 hours (full-time workers), employed persons who were not at work during the survey reference week, and unemployed personsto yield estimates of the full- and part-time labor forces. These categories are useful for a variety of analyses. The number of persons at work part time for economic reasons, for example, is of interest as a measure of underutilization of human resources and also is an important indicator of the cyclical movements in the labor market.2 Data about the full- and part-time labor forces are used for unemployment rate calculations and to develop several of the alternative measures of unemployment that enhance our understanding of the labor market.3
This excerpt is from an article published in the February 1986 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
Read abstract Download full article in PDF (777K)
1 This definition has been in effect since 1947. Over the years some labor market analysts have suggested this cutoff be revised, arguing that overall hours of work have declined over the long run, and thus the 40-hour standard workweek, upon which the definition of the full-time workweek is based, may no longer be the norm. The National Commission on employment and Unemployment Statistics addressed the issue in their report, Counting the Labor Force. They found no evidence of a significant change from the 40-hour standard and thus recommended that 35 hours continue to be used as the dividing line between part- and full-time work. See Counting the Labor Force, National Commission on Employment and Unemployment Statistics (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1979), 54-55.
2 For a discussion of the cyclical sensitivity of this measure and its component parts, see Robert W. Bednarzik, "Short workweeks during economic downturns," Monthly Labor Review, June 1983, pp. 3-11.
3 Each month in the news release, "The Employment Situation," BLS publishes a set of alternative measures of unemployment. These measures, labeled U-1 through U-7, are designed to reflect a wide range of assumptions about unemployment. Three of the alternatives involve the full-time/part-time concepts. U-4 is defined as unemployed full-time jobseekers as a percent of the full-time labor force. U-6 is defined as total full-time jobseekers plus half of the part-time jobseekers plus half of the total working part time for economic reasons as a percent of the civilian labor force less half of the part-time labor force. U-7 is the same as U-6 with the number of discouraged workers added to the count of jobseekers and the civilian labor force.
Related BLS programs
Current Population Survey
Nonfarm Payroll Statistics from the Current Employment Statistics (National)
Related Monthly Labor Review articles
On the decline in average weekly hours worked.—Jul. 2000.
Trends in hours of work since the mid-1970s.—Apr. 1997.
Reasons for the continuing growth of part-time employment.—Mar. 1991.
Within Monthly Labor Review Online:
Welcome | Current Issue | Index | Subscribe | Archives
Exit Monthly Labor Review Online:
BLS Home | Publications & Research Papers