Jobs Friday: The Part-Time Penalty : Planet Money Part-time workers make less per hour than full-time workers do. That has big implications for women and mothers.
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Jobs Friday: The Part-Time Penalty

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Jobs Friday: The Part-Time Penalty

Jobs Friday: The Part-Time Penalty

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Martha Gimbel is the economic research director of the Indeed Hiring Lab. We've had her on the show a bunch of times. She's kind of like THE INDICATOR's labor market guru or sensei or labor market Svengali. I don't know. Stacey and I have called Martha and her team all the names. The Indeed Hiring Lab has been referenced on this show as the Avengers of labor market data, and yet you have not yet seen all the Avengers.

MARTHA GIMBEL: Oh, I've totally fallen down in my duty to keep up.


There are a lot of Avenger movies, in Martha's defense.

GARCIA: That's right.


GARCIA: And, I mean, honestly, I haven't seen the new Avengers movie either. But it turns out there is kind of a connection between the Avengers and the analysis of the labor market that Martha has just completed. And it has to do with the nature of part-time work.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, movie idea - the Avengers go part time.

GARCIA: I wonder how Disney would feel about that (laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Actually, aren't a lot of the Avengers part time as it is? I mean, Tony Stark, like, Iron Man, he's like part time running a giant multinational corporation, part time being a playboy, part time saving planet earth.

GARCIA: Full time making Disney a ton of money.

VANEK SMITH: Full time making Disney a ton of money. Yeah. I mean, in a certain way, like, the superheroes know a lot about part-time work just as it is.

GARCIA: That's true.

VANEK SMITH: But it could be a next sequel. Idea studios, call me. But part-time work, you know, it is a big deal in the U.S., especially given how many people in the past decade had to take part-time work even though they wanted a full-time job.

GARCIA: Also because of how part-time jobs are compensated and the distribution of people who end up getting part-time jobs. So today on THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY, Martha is going to guide Stacey and me through some of the economics of part-time work. That is coming up right after the break.


VANEK SMITH: Martha Gimbel, along with her colleague Nick Bunker, just finished an analysis of part-time work in the U.S. So workers are considered part time when they work fewer than 35 hours a week. And Martha says it's really important to understand the nature of part-time work because quite a few people work part time, including a lot of people who would really rather be working full time.

GARCIA: And as a share of all the people in the economy who work or who want to work, the number of part-time workers who would rather have full-time jobs skyrocketed during the recession of 10 years ago because not enough full-time jobs were available to them.

GIMBEL: And that number has been coming down in the recovery. It's taken a very long time to come down. It's neared its pre-recession lows, but it's not near where it was in the early 2000s.

VANEK SMITH: In fact, if that number did fall to where it was in the early 2000s, almost another 1 million people would have full-time jobs. And those are just the people who are working part time who are officially looking for full-time work. Some people actively choose, of course, to work part time.

GARCIA: And Martha says, that is not always a straightforward choice, the choice to work part time. A lot of people choose part-time work out of necessity. For example, if they have a lot of personal obligations like raising kids and they need the flexibility of a part-time job. Others, of course, might just want a better work-life balance. They want to work fewer hours. But taking a part-time job, she finds, often comes at an even bigger cost than a lot of people realize.

GIMBEL: But one thing that crops up is that we often pay part-time workers less per hour than a full-time worker will make. So it's not just that they're making less because they're working fewer hours per week. We would all expect that. But they also get paid less for each one of those hours that they work.

VANEK SMITH: When an occupation pays less money per hour to its part-time workers than to its full-time workers, that is known as the part-time penalty. It's not an official term. The part-time penalty just refers to the difference that tends to occur between what an hour of full-time work pays and what an hour of part-time work pays. And what Martha has done is to look at the different occupations throughout the economy to see which ones have the biggest part-time penalty and then to try and understand why - like, what those jobs have in common.

GARCIA: The occupation with the single biggest part-time penalty is web developer. Wages for part-time web developers are 49.5% less than wages for full-time web developers. And that is our PLANET MONEY indicator - part-time web developers make only about half as much per hour as full-time web developers.

VANEK SMITH: And web developer is an outlier, but it isn't actually much of an outlier. So Martha and Nick found at least 10 occupations with part-time penalties of more than 30 percent. And if you look at those occupations, you will see that they have a few things in common.

GIMBEL: So a lot of those jobs are in sales. It's also jobs that, in general, it's going to be harder to divide up hours. So, for instance, if you are working in sales, you have a relationship with a client, it may hurt you if you can't put in the full-time hours to build that relationship.

VANEK SMITH: Martha says the occupations that have the biggest penalties for working part time are the ones that require workers to always be switched on, to be available, jobs where it's hard to trade a shift with another worker. For example, salespeople and also jobs like lawyer and banker, where workers have, you know, a relationship with their clients. They can't just swap their hours with someone else and expect their clients not to notice. These jobs usually don't offer much flexibility.

GARCIA: So those are jobs that have a part-time penalty. But there are also some occupations that actually pay slightly more to people who work part time. Martha found that the occupation that pays the highest premium for part-time workers is known as miscellaneous personal appearance workers. It's kind of how it sounds - people who help you care for your personal appearance.

For example, this includes people who work in nail salons. And part-time workers make 7.4% more per hour in this occupation than full-time workers. That's the highest wage premium she found for part-time workers.

VANEK SMITH: And Martha says jobs that pay a part-time premium tend to be jobs where it is easy for workers to change shifts with each other. An example of this is the health care field, where nurses and doctors will often work as part of a group in caring for patients. So if one nurse's shift ends, another one will pick up the next shift. And generally, you know, there's no downside, either for the nurses or the patients. And registered nurse, by the way, is one of the jobs that pays a part-time premium.

GIMBEL: Or you can also think of waiters and waitresses that also have a relatively low penalty. Waiters and waitresses tend to work in a team. They work with the busboy or with the receptionist. We've all had the experience where our server has come up to us halfway through the meal and gone, my shift is ending now, but here's the new person who's going to be handling your table.

VANEK SMITH: Plus, Martha says, jobs the pay their part-time workers on par with their full-time workers also tend to be jobs that you can finish in one set bundle of time that you can schedule. For example, hairdressers - they do not get penalized for working part-time hours because, you know, your hairdresser might cut your hair once a month or once every few months. But that hairdresser does not have to be in the salon all the time.

GARCIA: So jobs that penalize part-time workers tend to be more rigid and less flexible, whereas jobs that don't penalize part-time workers do offer some flexibility. Martha says that this fact has at least one big societal implication. It raises the gender wage gap. And the reason is that women, and mothers in particular, are more likely to choose part-time jobs that don't have a big part-time penalty.

VANEK SMITH: That's because those jobs tend to offer more flexibility. It makes sense that they would choose these jobs. But those jobs tend to be occupations that also pay lower overall incomes to their workers. So women and mothers end up making less money in their careers.

And for that to change, either men would also have to increasingly choose those flexible occupations or the rigid, inflexible occupations would have to become less rigid and inflexible so that women and mothers could join them, perhaps by, you know, embracing more of a team approach at work.

GIMBEL: Actually, you know what? The Avengers are a great example of a team-based approach where sometimes they trade off. We can all learn from the Avengers.

GARCIA: Right. Like if Tony Stark goes down, the Hulk can pick up the slack for a little while.

GIMBEL: Right. And then Thor can step in. Scarlet Widow (ph) is doing her thing. Like, we should all be learning from the Avengers.

VANEK SMITH: Next time I'm out sick, maybe Thor can step in.


GARCIA: A more cynical approach to this would be like, well, the Thor movie was last year, so it's like the Tony Stark movie this year. And so they're, like, alternating. You know what I mean?

VANEK SMITH: It's like, you do the movie this year. I have got to, like, take a vacation in the Maldives.

GARCIA: The team approach to box office smashes, yes. And before we close out the week, a shoutout. Yesterday, I judged the New York Fed's high school Euro Challenge. This is where some super-impressive ninth and 10th-graders present their ideas for how to fix some aspect of the European economy.

VANEK SMITH: That's so great.

GARCIA: Yeah. And after the competition was over, one of the teams and its economics coach came over to me and said hello and said that they were INDICATOR listeners.

VANEK SMITH: That is adorable. I love them all.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi. We're Gulliver Prep School.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And you're listening to jobs Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: With Stacey and Cardiff.


GARCIA: Yeah. Y'all thought we forgot about the air horn.

VANEK SMITH: Easter egg in jobs Friday. We can't have jobs Friday without the air horn. It would be sacrilege.

GARCIA: Yeah. We just saved it, you know, for the end. Real quick - 263,000 jobs created in April, a solid number.

VANEK SMITH: A really solid number.

GARCIA: Yeah. Wage growth still holding steady at about 3.2%. Not a perfect report. But for now, it looks like that steadily improving labor market is still steadily improving.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: This podcast was edited by Paddy Hirsch and produced by Coco Gallardo.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: This podcast is a production of NPR.

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