MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The cold weather didn't freeze hiring last month. We learned today that employers added nearly 300,000 jobs to payrolls in February. The unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent. It's another in a long string of positive reports. Jason Furman is chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.
JASON FURMAN: When you see month after month after month like what we've seen lately, it's hard to control your excitement.
BLOCK: But for all that excitement, there's little evidence that the steady hiring is leading to increases in wages, and many people remain under-employed. That's the part of the economy we're going to focus on now. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports there are more 6.5 million people working part-time who'd like to have more hours.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Randa Jama pushes airline passengers on wheelchairs to their gates at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. This had been a full-time job when she took it last fall, but then a couple of months later that changed.
RANDA JAMA: They told me that you're working only Saturday and Sunday from now.
NOGUCHI: That cut her hours to 12 a week. Sometimes her supervisors ask her at the last minute to stay late or do an extra shift. But since she cut back on babysitters, she can't accommodate.
JAMA: I let them go because they can't just wait for me to get full time. Now that I want to work full time, you know, I can't because obviously I changed everything.
NOGUCHI: Higher wages are just one issue workers like Jama care about. They say getting enough hours and a predictable schedule are equally important in order to enable them to find additional work or deal with the other obligations in their lives. Aditi Sen is a researcher from the Center for Popular Democracy, a worker advocacy group.
ADITI SEN: Nowadays, you have to say you have open availability and that you're free to work whenever.
NOGUCHI: But pledging open availability limits a worker's ability to plan or get other work. So far, the law has little to say when it comes to scheduling. Some states, including Minnesota, Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts, are considering legislation that would require several weeks' advance notice of schedule changes and institute minimum time off between shifts.
Shannon Henderson says she needs more control over her constantly shifting work schedule. The single mom of two says she asks for more than the 33 hours a week she typically gets working at the Wal-Mart in Sacramento. But that's also stressful.
SHANNON HENDERSON: In order to get hours, you have to have open availability. For instance, last week I worked all late shifts, which was 2 to 11. And then this week I had all early shifts, which was 6:30 to 2.
NOGUCHI: Wal-Mart last month promised to raise its base wage and give workers more control over their schedules. Henderson worries the store won't give her more control without cutting back on her hours. She looks for more steady work when she can.
HENDERSON: I do look, but the thing is, with the scheduling being all over the place, it makes it hard for me to actually set time to go look.
NEIL TRAUTWEIN: Unquestionably, those are some difficult hours.
NOGUCHI: Neil Trautwein is vice president with the National Retail Federation. He says retailers are balancing the consumer demand for 24-7 service with employees' scheduling concerns. Wal-Mart, he says, is responding to workers' demands.
TRAUTWEIN: That's the way the market self-adjusts and self-regulates.
NOGUCHI: Jason Diaz is a server at a restaurant in New Haven, Conn. He says in order to work 40 hours a week, he's constantly looking for extra gigs.
JASON DIAZ: Finding the place is the first problem, and then finding out how to manage that and travel costs, expenses and being to my next job on time - it's pretty difficult.
NOGUCHI: He spends his remaining time trying to find a full-time job and taking care of his son.
DIAZ: Just in the last two weeks, I got a email from my boss saying, hey, you have to work on Tuesday so figure out what you're going to do with your son.
NOGUCHI: So Diaz canceled his son's drum lesson and found babysitting only to discover his boss had made a mistake and he didn't have to work after all. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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