The number of people working part-time rose by 1.2 million in December and January—most were people who chose it. ‘25 hours is the new 35.’ PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREA D’AQUINO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, GETTY IMAGES (3) By Lauren Weber Feb. 25, 2023 12:00 am ET Part-time work is exploding. The number of Americans working part-time rose by 1.2 million in December and January compared with the preceding months, according to the Labor Department. Most of that increase—857,000 workers—was driven by people who worked part-time by choice, not because they were unable to find full-time work or their hours were cut. The total number of people working part-time voluntarily—22.1 million in January—is now almost six times the 4.1 million who are working part-time but would prefer full-time hours. That is the highest ratio in two decades. In the first months of the pandemic, when millions of Americans were laid off and couldn’t find full-time jobs, or saw their hours cut, those numbers were about even. In the 20 years before the Covid-19 pandemic, the ratio typically stayed between three to one and five to one. In total, 16.3% of the 160 million Americans who were employed in January worked part-time hours, which the Labor Department defines as anything less than 35 hours in a week. The increase in part-time workers reflects changes in the U.S. economy and the historically tight labor market, according to economists, employers and workers. As the pandemic led to burnout among some workers and drove many to reconsider their careers, some have downshifted to part-time roles. And with inflation high and prices for food, housing and other necessities rising, others who had retired or opted out of the workforce are taking on part-time jobs to supplement their household income. Longstanding reasons for choosing part-time work, such as caregiving responsibilities, health issues and school commitments, also remain at play for millions of Americans.
The data could signal a significant shift in Americans’ attitudes toward work. One notable difference between the current job expansion and earlier ones is the share
of people working part-time by choice, or for family or personal reasons—all of which the Labor Department calls “noneconomic reasons”—rather than out of necessity.