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Pitfalls seen in growth of part-time work

Across many industries, workers seeking full-time work are increasingly getting only part-time jobs. Wage disparity, high turnover, reliance on state aid and lower spending can result.

February 06, 2013|By Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • Nubia Calderon Barillas in the one-bedroom L.A. apartment she shares with her husband and three children. Barillas is a housekeeper at the Holiday Inn LAX, where she's hoping to get more hours. She relies on food stamps to get by.
Nubia Calderon Barillas in the one-bedroom L.A. apartment she shares with… (Katie Falkenberg, Los Angeles…)

Although the state's unemployment rate is at its lowest level in almost four years and the number of employed Californians is growing, labor experts see a different reality: Full-time work has faded in many industries.

Nubia Calderón Barillas, 32, left a job in retail in May for a housekeeping job at the Holiday Inn LAX that promised better pay and steady work.

But nearly nine months later, the mother of three said, she rarely works more than two days a week. She has asked for more hours, she said, but to no avail, even in an industry that set a new peak employment level last year.

"It's been difficult lately," she said. "I practically didn't work all of December except for the holidays."

California employers picked up the rate of hiring during 2012 — at times at nearly twice the rate of the country as a whole. But a significant portion of those jobs are less than full time, according to federal data released last week.

The number of people involuntarily working part time nationwide has grown to 7.9 million, an 80% increase from 2006, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show.

That trend is particularly pronounced in the Golden State, which saw the number of involuntary part-time workers swell to 1.3 million, up 126% from 585,100 in 2006. Only four other states, Nevada and Florida among them, had higher rates of involuntary part-time workers.

Various industries are increasingly relying on part-time workers and other contingent employees, such as temporary workers, to save money, said Michael Bernick, a Milken Institute fellow who studies labor markets.

"As you have more and more costs associated with full-time workers in terms of healthcare or other costs, employers look for alternative ways to reduce costs," Bernick said. "One way is on-demand and part-time work."

The increase isn't limited to industries that typically employ part-time workers, such as leisure and hospitality. Other sectors with strong job growth, such as professional and business services, have also seen a rise in part-time workers as employers aim to keep payroll costs down, Bernick said.

Nationwide, the number of involuntary part-time workers in professional and business services, which includes white-collar occupations such as accountants and lawyers, nearly doubled to 711,000 last year from 367,000 in 2007. A sector-by-sector breakdown is unavailable for California because the sample size of the household survey that the federal data rely on is too small.

Part-time work is common in California's leisure and hospitality sector, which added almost 61,000 jobs since December 2011, accounting for more than a quarter of the state's net jobs created in that time period.

Growth of low-wage industries such as hospitality provides work opportunities for people with limited education, even if the work is only part time, said Jerry Nickelsburg, senior economist at the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

"We shouldn't look with dismay" on the rapid growth of a sector that is so dependent on part-time work, he said. "If that were the only sector we were growing, then that would be worrisome."

Tom Walsh, president of Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hospitality workers in Los Angeles and Orange counties, said in negotiations with employers, his group has pushed for workers' hours to be maximized.

Although full-time work sometimes isn't ensured, Walsh said, employers are urged to give part-time workers as many hours as possible.

"I think it's an example of certain employers being penny wise but pound foolish," he said. "They figure they can save money by having more part-time workers and having low pay. If they don't change that, folks are going to take jobs somewhere else the first chance they get."

The long-term implication of part-time work, economists said, is growing wage disparities and the risk of dampening consumer spending, a major driver of the economy. Part-time workers also are more likely to rely on state aid, such as food stamps, to make ends meet.

Kellie Flowers moved to Los Angeles late last year hoping to find work as an event coordinator or wardrobe stylist.

But full-time work has been elusive, even with a college degree.

The 30-year-old Virginia native managed to land two part-time jobs when she first relocated, one at a Manhattan Beach boutique and the other at a running store.

She earned $10 per hour at both jobs but didn't have benefits or health insurance.

"It was very hard working two jobs," she said. "You definitely don't have any spending money."

Flowers recently started a new job, selling spa packages, on commission. She sells between six to 10 a day, earning $15 for each.

"I'm going to look for other jobs that make me happier. Until then I just need to make money," she said.

Meanwhile, Barillas, the Holiday Inn housekeeper, said she hopes she'll eventually work more hours.

She and her husband are falling behind on utility bills at the one-bedroom Koreatown apartment they share with their three children. She recently applied for food stamps, a decision she said was embarrassing.

"I've always had work," she said. "I used to think people on food stamps just didn't want to work, but now I find myself with the need to ask for help."

ricardo.lopez2@latimes.com

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