One of Donald Trump’s most outlandish claims during his fact-challenged campaign was that America’s jobless rate was 20 percent, 30 percent, maybe as high as 42 percent.
But he isn’t wrong that the official unemployment rate – 4.6 percent nationally in November, the lowest since August 2007 – doesn’t quite measure how bad our job situation is.
A more realistic number is the “underutilization” rate – 9.3 percent in November. That counts those who are officially unemployed, plus those without jobs who have stopped looking for work, plus those who are working part-time involuntarily.
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When Trump becomes president, the problem of part-time work lands in his lap. A study out this week shows how big a challenge that is – about 6 million employees who have to work part-time because their hours were cut or because they can’t find full-time work.
They account for nearly 4 percent of all workers, and they earn less, receive fewer benefits such as health care and have to deal with sporadic hours, according to the Economic Policy Institute. And that number is nearly 2 million higher than in 2007, just before the Great Recession, because of structural shifts in the U.S. economy being driven mostly by the retail, food service and hotel industries.
Latino and black workers have been hit hardest by this shift, as with so many other economic forces. They are nearly twice as likely as white workers to work part time involuntarily; while they represent 28 percent of all workers, they’re 41 percent of those part-timers.
The Economic Policy Institute says that one way to help part-time workers is the “Opportunity to Work” measure, overwhelmingly approved by San Jose voters in November. Starting in March, the most sweeping ordinance of its kind in the nation will require all public and private employers with at least 36 workers to prove they first offered additional hours or shifts to part-timers before hiring new staff.
This week, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, introduced a bill that would extend the requirement statewide, covering companies with 10 or more employees. It’s likely to end up on the California Chamber’s list of “job killer” bills.
As for the rest of the nation, it’s highly unlikely such a proposal will get very far in a Trump presidency, with a Republican Congress and with his pick announced Thursday for labor secretary, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder of Carl’s Jr., a harsh critic of the Obama administration’s worker protections.
Yet if lots of the 25 million new jobs that Trump promises to create over the next decade end up being part-time and low-paying, that’s not going to make life much better for the working families who voted for him. What if the economy doesn’t suddenly accelerate and generate hundreds of thousands more full-time jobs? Will Team Trump have any solutions then?
By the numbers
Total U.S. workers and involuntary part-time workers in selected demographic categories in 2015 (in millions):
Source: Economic Policy Institute