As the world approaches the eighth anniversary of the Global Recession (or as Australians like to call it, the Global Financial Crisis/GFC) I was recently reminded that even after all that labour and economic pain the mythology of part-time work as a lifestyle or entrepreneurial choice is still alive and even seeing a revival. (h/t for raising the subject Michael Sleap and Vanessa Wiltshire).
I have written about this previously (in 2013 via Random Analytics) but a recent conversation with Vanessa Wiltshire and a consistent discussion within several professional communities including government, finance and HR stressed the importance of updating both the data and the charts.
Two charts really sum up how part-time employment (and by extension underemployment) is driven largely by economic factors rather than by individual choice. Lifestyle/entrepreneur activity over the past decade and a half has increased the big increases of part-time employment during negative economic cycles puts paid to the lifestyle/entrepreneur mantra. In effect the bulk of Australians are price takers when it comes to employment.
The above chart details the rise of the various employment types and unemployment in Australia over the past 37-years. Data-points since 1978 (numbers rounded to nearest thousand):
- Full-Time Employment has risen from 5,076,000 to 8,156,000, a 60.7% increase
- Part-Time Employment has risen from 917,000 to 3,612,000, a 293.9% increase
- Unemployment has risen from 423,000 to 756,000, a 78.7% increase
- Underemployment has risen from 165,000 to 1,039,000, a 529.7% increase
As the data demonstrates, during the past approx. four decades there has been an almost 300% rise in part-time employment and a greater than 500% rise in underemployment (in simple terms underemployment equates to not enough part-time employment or full employment but not paid enough).
An additional and important consideration: Currently the underutilisation rate (the unemployment and the underemployment rate combined) stands at 14.1%. That means one in every seven Australians would like more work and by default is unhappy about their current lack of a job, their part-time employment arrangement or their contractual arrangements.
Now let’s look at that data again but from a timeframe that roughly equates with the beginning of the GFC in 2008. I’ve used the start date of July 2008 although the real employment impacts didn’t hit Australia until later that year.
The Part-Time versus Full-Time Jobs Surplus/Deficit since GFC chart details the employment losses and gains since July 2008 through to June 2015. Data-points again:
- Full-Time Employment has risen by 479,000 from 7,676,000, a 6.3% increase
- Part-Time Employment has risen by 550,000 from 3,061,000, a 18% increase
- Unemployment has risen by 282,000 from 473,000, a 59.8% increase
- Underemployment has risen by 373,000 from 666,000, a 56% increase
The spread between part-time and full-time employment is most apparent during the height of the GFC in Australia, namely 2009/2010. That is permanent jobs were lost either for good OR replaced by contingent arrangements generally as a consequence of companies reducing hours or because individuals took up contingent employment (such as contracting/consulting) because they had few other options.
Interestingly, as the economy has adjusted to the post-GFC era both full and part-time jobs have roughly kept pace with each other although contingent employment comes off a lower base number, thus the percentile increase is three-times greater than permanent positions.
Another very interesting point is that underemployment exceeded full-time, part-time and unemployment during the first quarters of the GFC (again, as people suffered redundancy or reduced hours) and then more recently underemployment exceeded full-time employment briefly for two quarters (Aug to Nov 2014).
As I first noted in 2013 the first phase of Peak Jobs was offshoring of machine like jobs which has seen a massive decrease in Australian manufacturing employment. The second phase (and the one we are currently transitioning through) is the rise of contingent employment. Some of that is by choice but for most it is chosen for them.
Additionally, the very recent spike in underemployment over full-time employment might be the first signal that we are now transitioning away from contingent arrangements mainly for economic reasons (such as economic downturns) and we are now starting to see the first noticeable impacts of automation and augmentation.
The question now – Is the real economy becoming impacted by the Check-Out Personnel who works up to a dozen self-checkouts, the Operator Plant in the Pilbara who is slowly being replaced by automated trucks or the Administration Staffer who are seeing reduced hours due to more efficient systems?
Only time will tell whether we have reached this third phase of Peak Jobs (Automation) but can we please stop trying to sell part-time employment as a lifestyle or an entrepreneurial choice because the bulk of Australians with mortgages and kids would probably prefer a full-time job with good lifestyle benefits.
Note: For the record, I am currently working part-time, not because of circumstances but because of choice. Yes, I am one of those serial lifestyle/entrepreneur types!
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. 6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, Jun 2015. Accessed 3 August 2015.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. Table 22. Labour underutilisation by Age and Sex – Trend, Seasonally adjusted and Original. Accessed 3 August 2015.