A blog post by John Lott titled “Numbers continue to be Stunning. 96 percent of net jobs added this year have been part-time jobs,” has received a lot of attention and was featured by Greg Mankiw, Don Boudreaux, and Tyler Cowen and “critiqued” (I think) by Brad DeLong.
First of all, it turns out that the 96 percent figure was actually wildly inaccurate, and was later corrected by John Lott – only 59.4 percent of the jobs added from January to August were part-time jobs (497,000 of 837,000 total jobs, see chart above, BLS data here for full-time employment and here for part-time employment). Fair enough, it was a huge, but honest mistake that should probably be corrected by Greg and Don on their blogs – they are still both reporting the original and inaccurate 96% figure. Here are some other issues:
1. Much of the 59% part-time figure for jobs added during the 8-month period from January to August period was driven by some pretty wild numbers in the month of March. It’s widely known that the BLS jobs data from the Household Survey are extremely volatile in certain months, and March was a perfect example. According to the BLS, there was a loss of 240,000 full-time jobs in the month of March and an increase of 360,000 part-time jobs, and both of those monthly job numbers deviated significantly from the averages over the last 12 months for those two job categories of 143,000 new full-time jobs and 24,000 new part-time jobs per month.
If you omit the month of March as an outlier, and consider the other seven months of 2013, part-time jobs represented only 19.1 percent of the total jobs created so far this year (see chart above).
2. The chart above shows what percentage of total new jobs created were part-time jobs over various periods from the last eight months to the last 24 months. For example, if we add two more months, and consider the last 10-month period from November 2012 to August 2013, we find that only 14.96% of the total jobs created were part-time (130,000 out of 869,000). Likewise, over the last 12 months through August 2013, only 14.37 percent of the total jobs created were part-time positions (288,000 out of 2,004,000 total new jobs). Adding just one more month illustrates the extreme volatility of the Household Survey jobs data. In September of last year, the BLS estimated that 767,000 full-time jobs were added in just one month, compared to a loss of 19,000 part-time jobs, and both of those figures deviated significantly from averages over longer periods of time, and brought the share of part-time jobs down to only 5.9 percent for the last 13 months.
3. Over longer periods of time that help smooth out the volatility of the monthly data (e.g. 12, 18, and 24 months), we see that a large majority of the jobs that have been created have been full-time (almost 86 percent over the last 12 and 24 months periods) and part-time employment has accounted for only about 14% of the new jobs added during those periods.
Bottom Line: Although it’s certainly possible that part-time jobs are increasing relative to full-time jobs, that trend can’t yet be confirmed. Therefore, the
96 percent 59 percent figure for part-time jobs created over the last 8 months really doesn’t deserve much attention, given the facts that: a) it’s being driven by one outlier month (March), b) monthly jobs data from the Household Survey are so extremely volatile, and c) the 59 percent figure for part-time jobs declines significantly over longer periods of time that include more data, e.g. adding just two months brings the part-time percentage below 15%.
Update: To further illustrate the extreme volatility of the BLS Household Survey data, consider that for the most recent month available – August 2013 – the number of full-time jobs increased by 118,000 while the number of part-time jobs fell by 234,000. So based on the most recent labor market data, part-time jobs are falling relative to full-time jobs; but the extreme volatility of these monthly data makes that finding relatively meaningless, which further illustrates the main point of this post.