Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 17, 2014

We have a project underway where we're looking at the net change in the number of Americans who work as full time or part time employees over different periods of time. The chart below shows all the data the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau have reported since they began regularly tracking each type of employment since January 1968.

Net Change in Full Time and Part Time Employment Since January 1968, Through August 2014

One of the things that stands out in looking at the chart is that part time employment actually grows during periods of recession, while full time employment would appear to take the hit, where a good part of what we're seeing is the result of previously full-time workers being pushed into more marginal, part-time employment. Interestingly though, one other thing that we observe is that while part time employment tends to rise sharply during periods of recession, during periods of economic expansion, it tends to rise slowly with the growing economy.

But with two very noticeable exceptions. The first exception is the period from 1994 through 2001, which coincides with a change in the U.S. Census Bureau's methodology for collecting and reporting employment status data beginning in January 1994. As such, we really can't break out the effect of what might be the result of that change in methodology from other changes affecting the U.S. job market at that time.

The second exception is the period since the official end of the December 2007-June 2009 recession through the present day, where it would seem that the U.S. economy has simply lost the ability to generate new part time jobs outside of recession, suggesting that aspect of the U.S. job market has broken down.

One last major point of interest is the surge in the number of Americans working in full time employment that we observe during the peak of the Dot-Com Bubble in 2000. Perhaps if not for that unsustainable bump, Americans would not have noticed the recession of 2001 as the number of Americans working full time returned to grow at the level of the pre-bubble trend.

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