America, the Part-Time Nation

"No one I know has a job anymore," Daily Beast editor Tina Brown observed early this year. "They've got Gigs." You know, gigs. Part-time jobs, here and there, that provide a decent trickle of checks without the umbrella of benefits. I remember reading that and wondering whether Tina was getting a representative cross-sample or hanging out with too many New York journalists and bankers. Both things could be true of course, but it looks like Tina was onto something:

Here are three striking graphs from Haver Analytics, via FT Alphaville that illustrate the "part-timezation" (...I think gig-ification falls more trippingly off the tongue...) of America. The first graph shows clearly that the number of people pushed to part-time is at a 20-year high and part-timers have more than doubled in the last year and a half.


The second graph shows that, although average workweek hasn't always been in lockstep with part-time population, we're now also at the lowest point in the last 20 years.


Finally, year-over-year unemployment demonstrates the truly terrible toll the economy took on employment. We've lost nearly six million jobs this recession.

unemployment soars.png

I've compared this recession to the 1982 recession, where unemployment nearly hit 11 percent, but as this graph shows, that recession started at a higher point of unemployment because some job losses in the 1970s were never made up until the mid-80s. If the United States does bounce back to an umemployment rate that hovers between 4 and 5 percent, it's going to require by far the greatest long-term employment gain in the last half century.

But what's the takeaway? More part-time hours and more under- and unemployed workers means falling wages and a negative long-term effect on consumer demand. Those are unmistakably symptoms of a deflationary cycle, something Paul Krugman has been warning about for some time. I will be the first to admit that this does cause me reconsider my earlier call to sunset some of the stimulus spending in 2010 to fight back the deficit. If these graphs demonstrate anything, it is that we have not hit the bottom of a serious threat to wage growth that might require the government to continue to stand in for depressed consumer demand and employment for a long time to come.