As almost 11.1 million people look for work nationwide, including 400,000 men and women in Georgia, many take on part-time positions when no full-time jobs are available. Nationally, more than one out of every five workers in the United States works part time.
Still, part-time workers are often treated like second-class employees, discriminated against because of the number of hours they work.
Part-timers are often paid lower hourly wages than their full-time counterparts. And, typically, they get few or no employer benefits. According to the Economic Policy Institute, only 17 percent of part-timers receive employer-provided health care coverage, in contrast to 69 percent of full-timers. Just 20 percent of part-time workers get a pension plan from their employers, compared to two-thirds of full-time workers. Most part-timers also miss out on vacation, personal and paid sick days.
The lack of basic government protections poses huge problems for part-timers. Unemployment insurance and Social Security benefits and family leave are organized around full-time, full-year jobs.
When a part-time worker loses her job, she's 59 percent less likely than her full-time co-workers to collect any unemployment insurance, since it's based on a hours, pay amount and one's intention to find a full-time position.
Most states, including Georgia, exclude part-time workers from collecting unemployment benefits.
Given these disadvantages, who would take a part-time job? In this shaky economy, more people are ending up in one (or more) part-time jobs. Employers who want to save company costs are cutting back hours and pushing workers into working part-time, a trend expected to continue.
In 2008, the number of full-time jobs cut back to part-time because of weak business hit 3.7 million, the largest number in the 50 years it's been tracked. Others work part-time jobs because they can only work certain hours for care-giving reasons or because they are in industries largely made up of part-time workers -- such as retail and janitorial services.
As more workers are left no choice but to take part-time jobs in this worsening economy, their fate will hopefully highlight an injustice that has become a national scandal: punishing workers who must work part-time.
Those of us who need (or are required) to work less than full-time hours shouldn't lose wages, benefits, necessary time off or government protections.
To reflect the 21st century reality that more and more working people are working part-time, we must update our outdated systems to reflect this.
A first step to updating our employment standards and work policies is already happening. The recovery package pending in Congress would provide incentives to states to include unemployment coverage for people who have recently lost their low-wage or part-time jobs.
We need to enact similar measures to level the playing field for all workers and ensure that families can cover their basic costs.
Providing all unemployed workers, part-time included, with unemployment compensation would give much-needed relief to workers and families that are in great need. This would, in turn, stimulate the economy.
Part-time workers are essential to rebuilding America; they deserve to be full participants in the work benefits and protections that sustain American families and bolster our economy.
This article originally ran in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.