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Britt Zaragoza is among a growing army of part-time workers helping to drive down the jobless rate in the United States.
The 48-year-old single mother found employment as a receptionist at a Columbus, Ohio, law firm in August after searching for two years. Not working a full day gives her the flexibility to take care of her 10-year-old son and pursue a career in catering.
“I knew sooner or later something would come up, and thank God it did,” she said. “It was the perfect hours that I was looking for so I jumped on it real quick.”
A drop in unemployment, no matter the source, means more people are earning paychecks, which in turn may boost the consumer spending that accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. Joblessness unexpectedly fell to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest since President Obama took office in January 2009, from 8.1 percent, according to the Labor Department.
“You’d rather have full-time than part-time employment for sure, but a job is a job,” said Ray Stone, managing director of Stone & McCarthy Research Associates in Princeton, N.J. Still, “if it’s part-time for economic reasons it takes some of the benefit away.”
Some 582,000 Americans, the most since February 2009, took part-time positions last month because of slack business conditions or because those jobs were the only work they could find, according to Labor Department estimates.
At the same time, the number of people who voluntarily decided to take a part-time position climbed to 18.6 million in September from 16.9 million the prior month, according to Stone’s calculations. The jump could be explained by students taking part-time jobs at the beginning of the school year after having worked full time during the summer recess.
Because part-time workers are typically the first to be fired when economic conditions worsen, the gain in these types of jobs takes some of the shine off the drop in joblessness, said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC in New York.
“It’s an employment recovery built on thin ice,” said Dutta. “If there was an immediate downturn or even a weakness heading into the end of the year, who’s going to be the first one to go?”
The jump in employees who are unable to find full-time jobs is what one would expect in an economy that is growing less than 2 percent at an annual rate, Dutta said. Gross domestic product expanded at a 1.3 percent pace in the second quarter after growing 2 percent in the first three months of the year, according to figures from the Commerce Department.