Part-time work during a labor shortage

Brenda Garcia, who works at a Chipotle in Queens, has a problem that might seem surprising in today’s tight job market. She is a part-t...


Brenda Garcia, who works at a Chipotle in Queens, has a problem that might seem surprising in today’s tight job market. She is a part-time employee who wants more work, but the restaurant continues to assign her less than 20 hours per week.

“It’s not enough for me,” Garcia told my colleague Noam Scheiber. “They don’t give me a stable job.”

Garcia is one of millions of Americans who want an established full-time work schedule and are struggling to find it, as Noam explains in a Times article. As a result, these part-time workers not only face low wages, but also uncertain shifts that can change at the last minute, disrupting the rest of their lives. Workers can of course quit, but they often find that other jobs available to them present similar problems.

How could this be when the country is in the midst of a labor shortage in which employers are struggling to fill jobs? Because many company executives have decided that part-time work is too important to give up just because the labor market is temporarily tight.

Part-time work allows companies to control labor costs in two crucial ways. First, companies can reduce the cost of their benefits, as part-time workers often do not receive health care or pension benefits. Second, companies can quickly change staffing levels to meet demand on a given day or week, rather than having workers idle during slower times.

“It’s very deeply embedded in employers’ business models,” Noam – who covers workers and the Chicago workplace – told me. “They’re incredibly reluctant to give it up, even if it means persistent labor shortages and high turnover in the short to medium term. Basically, they think it makes more economic sense to wait out current shortages than to fundamentally change their working model.

This may well be a rational decision for individual businesses. The shift towards flexible, part-time and often outsourced work is one of the main reasons for the increase in corporate profits in recent decades. After-tax corporate profits have accounted for more than 7% of national income in recent years, compared with an average of 5.6% from the 1950s to the 1970s, according to the Commerce Department.

If employers abandon part-time work in a tight labor market like today, they fear they will be stuck with higher labor costs for years. “Employers will usually try everything else first – raise wages, offer bonuses and other financial incentives, temporarily grant more hours to part-time workers,” says Noam. “All of these measures are reversible and will likely be reversed once labor shortages ease.”

Companies have been able to insist on so much part-time work largely because they have more bargaining power over workers than in the past. The business sector is more consolidated decades ago, leaving the average employer with more resources and the average worker with fewer alternatives in any given industry.

Workers, for their part, are much less likely to belong to a union than in the past. And union members make more money than similar non-union workers because an in-depth study of the US economy by Princeton and Columbia economists found. Unions effectively transfer a portion of a company’s income from profits to wages. The shrinking of trade unions has, in turn, contributed to growing economic inequalities.

Unions tend to raise wages by pressuring companies to hire full-time people and threatening to strike if companies refuse.

Last month, unionized workers at King Soopers, a mostly Denver-area supermarket chain owned by Kroger, went on strike. They made the growth of part-time work a central issue. In the strike settlement, Kroger agreed to contractual language that will likely see it add 1,000 or more full-time jobs over the next three years. The majority of jobs at King Soopers are still part-time, but the settlement has changed the balance.

“Without a union that could organize a strike and provide strike pay, it’s hard to see how most workers could pressure their employers to make a similar change,” Noam said.

In the short term, a tight labor market will raise wages for many American workers. If it persists for years – which is unlikely – it could shift the balance of power between workers and employers. But the most plausible way to alter this balance is through government policy.

The house is gone a bill called the PRO law it would make it easier for workers to form unions, and President Biden supports it. Among other things, the bill would prevent companies from requiring employees to attend union-busting meetings and impose financial penalties on companies that fire workers for trying to organize a union.

The bill appears to be stalled in the Senate, where Republicans oppose it. Democrats could try to pass some of the bill’s provisions along party lines in the coming months.

The growing inequality in the US economy over the past half century is unlikely to come to an end due to a temporarily tight labor market. “Labour shortages may be a necessary condition for changing the nature of these jobs,” says Noam, “but they are usually not a sufficient condition.”

If you have already played spelling bee, you may have been frustrated when the game didn’t recognize a word you typed. Sam Ezersky, the editor of Bee, is the recipient of many of these complaints.

But choosing the words that will be on the official list is not as easy as you think, as Sam explained in a Twitter thread. Some common terms are proper nouns (“Barbacoa”); some are two words (“roadmap”); and some are modern slang with no official definition (“laggy”), which would disqualify them.

Many decisions are more subjective, over words that might appear in the dictionary but would be unfamiliar to most players – like “ototomy,” an omission that Sam’s own father complained about to him.

“I don’t want to tilt too easily or too hard, so everyone can enjoy playing,” Sam told us. would otherwise be an unchecked and unfiltered lexicon.”

And he continually seeks that balance. Sam says he regularly adds words to the list after hearing from readers — as he recently did with Barbacoa, Roadmap, and Shift.

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was mythology. Here’s today’s puzzle — or you can To play online.



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