It is really amazing how major news outlets can't seem to find reporters who understand the most basic things about the economy. I guess this is evidence of the skills shortage.

Bloomberg takes the hit today in a piece discussing areas where the economy is likely to make progress in a Trump administration and areas where it is not. In a middle "muddle through" category, we find "Full-Time Work Is Likely to Stay Elusive for Part-Timers." The story is:

"Trump has highlighted the number of part-time workers in the U.S. economy, saying 'far too many people' are working in positions for which they are overqualified and underpaid. While the proportion of full-time workers in the labor force remains below its pre-recession high, it’s made up most of the ground lost during the downturn. But it hasn’t budged much in the last two years, even as the job market has gotten tighter. Some economists point to the gig economy as the driving force (pun intended) behind part-timers. Others see a broader shift in the labor market that’s left many workers stuck with shorter hours, lower wages and weaker benefits."

Okay, wrong, wrong, and wrong. In its monthly employment survey (the Current Population Survey [CPS]), the Bureau of Labor Statistics asks people whether they are working more or less than 35 hours a week. If they are working less than 35 hours they are classified as part-time. The survey then asks the people who are working part-time why they are working part-time. It divides these workers into two categories, people who work part-time for economic reasons (i.e. they could not find full-time jobs) and people who work part-time for non-economic reasons. In other words, the second group has chosen to work part-time. 

If we look at the numbers for involuntary part-time workers, it dropped from 6.8 million in December of 2014 to 5.6 million in December of 2016. That is a drop of 1.2 million, or almost 18 percent. That would not seem to fit the description of not budging much. Of course, Bloomberg may have been adding in the number of people who chose to work part-time, which grew by 1.4 million over this two year period, leaving little net change in total part-time employment.


Of course, there is a world of difference between a situation where people need full-time jobs, but work part-time, because that is the only work they can find and a situation in which people work part-time because they don't want to spend 40 hours a week on the job. Most of us would probably consider it a good thing if people who wanted to spend time with their kids, or did not want to full time for some other reason, had the option to work part-time. This is what in fact has been happening and it has been going on for three years, not two.

Come on Bloomberg folks — did you ever hear of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare")? As a result of Obamacare workers are no longer dependent on employers for health care insurance. This means that many people have opted to work part-time rather than full-time. This has opened up full-time jobs for people who need them, even though it has left total part-time employment little changed.

In total, the number of people involuntarily working part-time has fallen by 2.2 million since the ACA has been in effect, while the number choosing to work part-time has risen by 2.4 million. The sharpest increase in voluntary part-time employment has been among young mothers and older workers just below Medicare age.

It is really incredible that this shift from involuntary part-time to voluntary part-time is not more widely known. It is a very important outcome from the ACA.