NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Part-Timers, Part Two

August 18, 1997

One of the main issues in the strike by the Teamsters against United Parcel Service is UPS's extensive use of part-time workers. Of 308,000 employees, 57 percent are part-timers, many of whom would like full-time work. The union believes this percentage is too high and wants UPS to increase the number of full-time jobs. This position is supported by the AFL-CIO, which is seeking to make a national issue of the "part-time economy."

The matter involves cost and flexibility, both for workers and employers. In the case of UPS, full-time workers on average make $19.95 per hour, while part-timers earn $11.07 -- significantly higher than the average for all part-time workers. UPS argues that forcing it to convert part-time positions to full-time would impose excessive costs that the company cannot afford to pay. "If we weren't operating with part-timers and paying them the wages that we are paying today, we would be out of business," a UPS spokesman stated.

While it is true that in general part-time work pays less than comparable full-time work, it would be a mistake to assume that most part-timers would take full-time work if offered. The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly surveys workers on exactly this question, classifying part-time workers as voluntary, preferring part-time work to full-time, or involuntary, preferring full-time work but unable to find it.

BLS surveys show the vast majority of those working part-time do so because it suits them and are not seeking full-time work.

  • In 1996, there were 23.2 million part-time workers in the U.S., 18.3 percent of total employment 
  • Of these, only 4.3 million, or 3.4 percent of all workers, were classified as working part-time involuntarily, a percentage that has been falling.
  • Sixty-eight percent of voluntary part-timers were women and 32 percent were men; 56 percent of women were married, compared to 35 percent of men.
  • Two factors are primarily responsible for the growth of part-time employment. First is the desire by women to juggle work and family responsibilities. If part-time work were not available, they would not be able to work at all, thus lowering their family's standard of living. Second is the growth of industries where part-time work historically has been prevalent, such as services, retail trade and real estate. There is no evidence that businesses primarily employing full-time workers are switching to part-timers to reduce labor costs.


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