Over 32.1 million working people in the United States—more than one in five—work part-time in 2021, and nearly six in ten part-time workers are women. Many people work part time to support their families while caring for loved ones, going to school, or attending to other obligations, but are penalized for choosing part-time work in terms of pay, benefits, and opportunities to advance. And for many others, working part time isn’t a choice at all: some employers, especially in low-wage service industries, rarely offer full-time positions, and some employees—especially women—find that caregiving or other responsibilities preclude full-time work, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Relative to their full-time counterparts, part-time employees frequently make less per hour, face unpredictable schedules, lack access to important workplace benefits, and are denied promotion opportunities. Research from the Economic Policy Institute indicates that, across occupations, part-time workers are paid nearly 20 percent less per hour than their full-time counterparts. Working part time more than doubles the likelihood of having work hours that vary weekly, and employers are more likely to give part-time employees short notice of their work schedules. Research also shows that employers are more likely to promote full-time workers than part-time workers. Part-time workers also frequently lack access to employer-sponsored benefits such as health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid—or even unpaid—time off. The lack of workplace protections for part-time workers was acutely felt during the height of the pandemic, when 70 percent of mothers working part-time jobs reported taking unpaid sick leave to care for their children.
For millions of people across the country, working part time is not a choice. About 4.9 million part-time workers—more than one in seven—work part time “involuntarily” (as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and would prefer full-time work. And this estimate does not capture people who want to work part time but receive fewer hours than they are seeking from their employer—a scenario that is common in many low-paid service sector jobs. Research from the Center for Law and Social Policy indicates that up to 40 percent of all people working part time would prefer more hours, including half of people working part time in service occupations. In addition, for some people—especially women—the “choice” of part-time work may be forced by high child care costs or inflexible and unpredictable work schedules. While rates of involuntary part-time work have come down from their 2020 peaks, the risks posed by new variants of the coronavirus and continued economic uncertainty continue to create instability for part-time workers.
With low pay, volatile work hours and incomes, and little opportunity to advance in the workplace, part-time workers struggle to make ends meet. The challenges of part-time work have severe consequences for working families, as many people working part-time—predominantly women—are primary earners for their households. About one in ten part-time workers lives in poverty—four times the rate of poverty experienced by full-time workers. The economic hardship that many women of color and their families face is particularly pronounced: more than one in six Black women (18.1%) and nearly one in six Latinas (16.1%) working part time are living in poverty. Addressing this reality, and improving the quality of part-time work, is key to promoting family economic security and to reducing gender and racial income disparities.
The Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights would expand workplace protections and access to benefits for people working part time, helping them support themselves and their families. The Act would provide part-time employees with:
- Part-time parity. For jobs that require substantially similar skills, responsibilities, and duties, employers would be required to treat part-time and full-time employees equally, including with regard to wages, ability to accrue benefits, and eligibility for promotions.
- Access to hours. Some employers spread hours among a large pool of part-time staff in order to “flex up” on short notice, rather than offering stable, full-time positions. By requiring employers to offer additional available hours to their qualified existing employees before hiring new employees, temporary employees, or contractors to work those hours, the law would promote more adequate hours for part-time employees and full-time work for people who want it.
- Employer pension plans. The Act would modify the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to allow part-time workers who have worked at least 500 hours for two consecutive years to access the employer-sponsored retirement plans available to full-time workers.
- Family and medical leave. Access to leave—both paid and unpaid—is notably lacking in the U.S., especially for part-time workers. The Act would eliminate the “hours of service” requirement from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which would allow any employee who has worked for their employer for least 12 months—regardless of how many hours they work per week—to be eligible for unpaid leave under the FMLA.
Together, the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights and the Schedules that Work Act will create federal protections to establish a fair workweek for people working in low-paid and hourly jobs, improving job quality and promoting equity in the modern economy.