If Freelance Is the Future, Why Did Income Plummet for D.C. Part-Timers?

For the last few months, I've been writing about the rise of part-timers, the benefits of contract work, and the future of a freelance economy. So I should probably say a few words on this Washington Post story about how income is plummeting for part-timers in Washington, D.C.

The crucial bit of the story:

Median income for part-timers was down by double digits in every jurisdiction in the region between 2007 and 2009...

Most of the country's largest metropolitan areas experienced a broad decline in wages for part-timers, especially in the construction and retail sectors, which hire a lot of workers who are not counted as full-time employees with benefits.

Cascading part-time income between 2007 and 2009 is bad news, indeed. But it's not very surprising. Before the recession, a higher share of part-timers were (1) choosing to work part-time and (2) earning more. During the recession, millions of people were forced to work part-time at lower wages, because employers were willing to hire cheap, temporary help and workers were desperate. When you add these millions of desperate, reluctant part-timers working at lower wages to the population of total part-time workers, you'll see lower overall wages for the part-time community. It's a trend worth noting, but it's a trend of the recession, not for the future.

Here's a graph of the 5+ million Americans who have been pushed to part-time in the recession.

Thumbnail image for parttimeincrease.png


Keep in mind that when you hear bad news about the labor market is D.C., you're hearing bad news that is, relatively, good news, since Washington is one of the healthiest metro economies in the country. Leave aside for real estate prices, which have fallen sharply, especially in parts of northern Virginia and Maryland. Few cities have seen earnings, employment, and output as stable as the greater Washington area thanks to the stability and growth of the federal government.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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