Oregon’s Part-Time Workers: One-Fifth of Employment in 2017

by Henry Fields

July 3, 2018

Although most people work in full-time jobs, around 21 percent of employed Oregonians usually worked part-time schedules in 2017. People work part time for a variety of reasons. Part-time jobs offer flexibility for some who seek a job that fits their circumstances, such as students, those looking for additional income from seasonal work, or a spouse in a household with young children. Such groups are generally considered the “voluntary part-time employed.” There are also “involuntary part-time employed.” These are people working part-time schedules since they can’t find full-time employment or have had their hours cut at work from a usual full-time schedule down to a part-time schedule because of economic conditions, such as slack work, unfavorable business conditions, or a slow economy.

The Current Population Survey (CPS) collects data for the U.S. and Oregon about full- and part-time workers. Those figures include the demographics of people working part time, reasons for working part time, and how these numbers change over time. Among several things, these data can be used to determine how many people are “voluntarily” or “involuntarily” working part time.

What Is a Part-Time Worker?

Although full- and part-time job classification can be generally thought of as working above or below a fixed number of hours per week, the reality is more complex since people generally have a “usual” number of hours that they work per week, an “actual” number of hours they did work each week, and a “preferred” number of hours they would like to work each week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) distinguishes between usual full- and part-time workers based on 35 hours per week:

  • Full-time worker: a person who usually works 35 or more hours during the survey reference week (at all jobs combined).
  • Part-time worker: a person who usually works fewer than 35 hours per week (at all jobs combined).   
Usual work schedules, actual work schedules, and preferred work schedules may differ. The actual hours a person is at work during a week may differ from the usual number of hours they work for “noneconomic” or “economic” reasons. Noneconomic reasons could be family or personal obligations, school or training, vacation, illness, or bad weather. Economic reasons include slack work, material shortages, and repairs to plant or equipment. For example, if a person who usually works 40 hours per week goes on vacation for a couple of days, their usual work status would classify them as a “usual full-time worker” but the actual number of hours worked would be less than 35. Thus, this person would be a usual full-time worker who was at work between 1 and 34 hours for noneconomic reasons. 
The close relationship between employment and overall economic conditions was clear during the last recession when unemployment rates increased and the percentage of those working part time for economic reasons increased. As hours were cut back and employees laid off, more people turned to part-time employment.

Characteristics of Part-Time Workers

Of the 153.3 million people employed in the U.S. in 2017, 126.0 million (82.2%) were employed full time and 27.4 million (17.8%) were employed part time. Percentages in Oregon were different, with 79.2 percent of Oregon’s total employment usually working full time and 20.8 percent usually working part time in 2017. Taking a longer-term perspective, Oregon tends to have a higher percentage of part-time workers than the U.S.

U.S. data show that both younger and older workers are more likely to work part time. In 2017, 43.3 percent of workers aged 16 to 24 years and 21.4 percent of workers aged 55 years and over worked part time. In contrast, only 11.6 percent of workers aged 25 to 54 years, a group traditionally considered to be of “prime working age,” worked part time. Younger workers are likely working part-time schedules for reasons related to school attendance, and older workers are likely working part time for reasons surrounding the transition to retirement from a “full-time career job.”

Oregon data by age group from the CPS are limited to age 16 to 19 years and age 20 years and over. However, Oregon data for 2017 tell a similar story with workers aged 16 to 19 years more likely to be working part time. Approximately 77 percent of employment for those aged 16 to 19 years was part time, while in contrast approximately 19 percent of employment for those aged 20 years and over was part time.

Although both men and women are more likely to be employed full time rather than part time, a majority of those working part time are women. In 2017, nearly two-thirds (64.1%) of U.S. part-time workers were women, and around one-third (35.9%) were men. Less than half of part-time workers are married with a spouse present (44.6%). About 41 percent of part-time workers have never been married, and around 15 percent are widowed, divorced, or separated. Oregon data by gender for 2017 show nearly the same percentages as the U.S.; approximately two-thirds of Oregon’s part-time workers are women, and around one-third are men.

Trends in Part-Time Employment

In 2017, the highest concentration of part-time employment in the U.S. was in service occupations, with 37 percent of total employment in these occupations being part time. Included in this group are occupations such as fast food and counter workers, and waiters and waitresses. Other occupations with high concentrations of part-time workers are sales and office occupations (28% of employment in this occupation). Included in sales and related occupations are jobs such as retail sales workers. About 15 percent of natural resources and construction occupations are part time, the lowest rate of the major occupation groups.

Detailed demographic information about Oregon is available from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which defines part-time workers as people 16 years and over who worked 1 to 34 hours each week during the past 12 months.

From 2012 to 2016, Oregon’s highest concentration of part-time employment was in food preparation and serving related occupations (56%); personal care and service (47%); and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations (43%). Specific occupations reported as being nearly all part-time included restaurant hosts and hostesses; entertainment attendants; massage therapists; musicians; and lifeguards.

Occupations with the smallest part-time worker presence included architecture and engineering (7%); installation, maintenance, and repair (9%); computer and math occupations (10%); business and financial operations (12%); and production occupations (12%).

Interestingly, Oregon’s largest occupational groups reported varying percentages of part-time workers. Business and financial operations occupations employed nearly 274,000 workers, of which almost 32,600 worked part time (12%). Office and administrative support employed 239,000, and in those occupations 28 percent worked part time. Food preparation and serving related workers, another large occupational group often associated with Oregon’s seasonal leisure and hospitality industry, reported over half of its 118,155 workers were employed part time.
Conclusion

Part-time employment offers a wide range of opportunities; the reasons vary by individual circumstances as well as economic conditions. Approximately 18 percent of workers in the nation were employed part time in 2017, compared with 21 percent of Oregonians. Nationally and statewide, younger and older workers are more likely to work part time as are women. The percentage of those working part time for economic reasons rose and fell in tandem with the changes in the unemployment rate over the last 10 years. Occupations tending to have a large percentage of part-time employment included retail sales, cashiers, waiters and waitresses, chefs and cooks, food preparation workers and the like – those often associated with leisure and seasonal business activities. Whether part-time employment is voluntary or involuntary, the range of occupations provides opportunities for many Oregonians.

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