SALT LAKE CITY — The percentage of Utah's workforce employed in part-time jobs has increased during the past five years, a symptom of a jobs-squeezing recession and a trend that continues to play out nationally.
Friday the U.S. Labor Department reported that employers in the United States added 162,000 jobs in July, compared with 188,000 in June. That dropped the unemployment rate to 7.4 percent from 7.6 percent nationally, a number that drew praise from the Obama administration, citing it as a sign of economic growth.
But the figures also revealed that the number of part-time workers — those who had hours cut back or could not find full-time work — rose 19,000 in July. That category of worker has grown by 607,000 since March.
From 1997 to 2012, the average percentage of part-time workers in the Utah workforce was 23.3 percent, said Carrie Mayne, chief economist for the Utah Dept. of Workforce Services. Last year, 24.7 percent of the Beehive State workforce was part-time, up from 23.1 percent in 2011.
Perhaps more telling is the movement in that category since 2006. That year only 20 percent of Utah workers were part-time. But that grew to the nearly 25 percent level in 2012, according to DWS data.
The abundance of labor has been good for employers, said Mayne, but for prospective employees, not so much.
“There are many workers out there available for work, so employers are able to hire at lower wages,” she said. “But if and when the momentum of recovery picks up, you’ll see the part-time percentages come back down and you’ll see overall wage growth as well.”
Mayne noted that some high-paying jobs were casualties of the downturn, many of which will not be coming back despite the recovery, particularly for lower and middle skill level workers.
“(Gone) are opportunities that there once were for people with lower levels of education to get “family sustaining” wages,” she said. “There is no indication that is going to change. There seems to be more education required now for (those positions).”
In Utah, the jobless rate currently stands at 4.7 percent, according to the Utah Dept. of Workforce Services with approximately 1.3 million people working in full- or part-time positions. For some, working fewer than full-time hours can pose an economic hardship, while for others it helps them pursue their life goals more effectively.
Murray resident Kiana Fatahian, 21, is working part-time at a flower shop while studying dance at Salt Lake Community College. She said it is her preference because doing so allows her the flexibility to pursue her long-term career ambitions.
“I have school and I’d much rather spend time doing something other than working,” she said. “If I make less, then I have to live with less but I’m OK with that.”
Fatahian said that once she has completed her degree studies she will be looking for an increase in hours.
“If I am teaching dance classes or traveling for work as a teacher and it adds up to 40 hours per week, then I would be OK with that because it’s my chosen career field.”
If not, then she would consider part-time work in another field as a supplement to her income while focusing on furthering her career.
Mayne said the sluggishness of the economic recovery has made it tougher for people seeking full-time work to obtain the kinds of jobs they are looking for.
She advises patience.
“The last couple of months in Utah have seen our job growth rate slow a little,” she said. “Businesses are not expanding at the rate they were earlier in the year.”
She said that could indicate more part-time work becoming available rather than full-time job expansion.
Analysts Friday noted that among the sectors showing job gains were in retail and in leisure and hospitality. Those fields typically feature lower-paying jobs and also part-time work.
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