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There always have been part-time jobs. Some workers want them. Some employers provide them out of financial and scheduling necessity.

Since the Great Recession began, though, the proportion of involuntary part-time employment has grown, and there are signs the Affordable Care Act is swelling those ranks as employers prepare to reduce their health-insurance coverage responsibility for full-time employees.

When the economic collapse began in late 2007, an estimated 24.7 million Americans worked part time. That number now is 27.5 million, about one-fifth of the labor force.

A small share of the part-time growth is fueled by workers’ preferences. They’re juggling school and work, or family and work, or downscaling their work lives as they near retirement. Part-time hours fit their needs.

But according to U.S. Department of Labor household surveys, most of the recent part-time job growth is not by workers’ choice. In the latest national jobs report, covering April 2013, nearly 8 million workers – about one-third of all part timers – said they were involuntarily part time.

The Labor Department classifies such involuntary part time as “for economic reasons.” That means that only part-time hours were offered because of “slack work or business conditions” or job hunters could find only part-time work.

Indications also abound that employers around the country are turning full-time into part-time jobs to avoid employee health care coverage requirements that will kick in next year.

Beginning in 2014, businesses that have more than 50 full-time-equivalent employees must offer their full-time workers access to a qualified health care plan or pay a penalty of $2,000 a person. The health care law defines a full-time employee as anyone working more than 30 hours a week.

That is a precedent-setting and low definition of full-time work, a member of the National Federation of Independent Business testified before Congress in April.

“This is already causing rescheduling of employees where public and private employers have read the law,” said William Gouldin, a business owner who has provided health insurance to his full-time employees.

Darden, which owns the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse chains, announced and then backed off from a plan to reduce full-time workers to part time after a swell of negative national reaction.