Commuters and tourists exit a subway car on May 26, 2022 in New York City.
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More Americans were working part-time and temporary jobs last month, which may herald future changes in the shape of what looks like a robust labor market today.
July hiring easily beat expectations, suggesting a strong labor market despite other signs of economic weakness. But a jump in the number of part-time workers for economic reasons, usually because of reduced hours, poor business conditions or because they can’t find full-time work, signals potential instability ahead.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the number of such workers, called “involuntary part-timers,” rose by a seasonally adjusted 303,000 in July to 3.9 million. This follows a sharp decline of 707,000 in June.
The metric, which is volatile, is still below the 4.4 million involuntary part-time workers recorded in February 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic upended the labor market.
The number of full-time workers fell by 71,000 during the month, while part-time workers, both voluntary and involuntary, rose by 384,000.
July’s uptick was not due to a lack of full-time jobs. Compared to the June report, July saw fewer workers who could only find part-time work. Instead, according to the report, workers were forced into part-time roles due to reduced hours and unfavorable trading conditions.
The report signals a move in the “wrong direction,” according to Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, and could signal a recession ahead.
Meanwhile, temporary help services jobs showed signs of expansion, increasing by 9,800 in July, more than double the 4,300 in June.
According to Pollak, these are workers hired temporarily to pick up extra work and are often the first to be cut as employers prepare for tougher economic times. Growth in that metric, he said, could be a reassuring sign for the economy.
The conflicting indicators could reflect a diverging economy where some industries are struggling more than others, according to Erica Groshen, former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and now a senior economic adviser at Cornell University.
Another possibility, he said, is that strong hiring earlier in the month led companies to pull back to correct.
“Towards the end of the month we had people cut hours,” he said.