Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West, thinks concerns about the rise in part-time work are overblown. The government's figures on part-time jobs are highly volatile, Anderson notes. The big gain this year could quickly reverse, he says.
Yet for the most part, Daniel Alpert, managing partner of Westwood Capital, wrote in a report last month, "the only folks engaging in meaningful hiring are doing so because labor is cheap."
The low quality of the added jobs could help explain something that has puzzled economists: How has the U.S. economy managed to add an average of roughly 200,000 jobs a month this year even though it grew at a tepid annual rate below 2 percent in the first half of the year?
Some are proposing an answer: Perhaps a chronically slow-growth economy can't generate many good-paying jobs â¿¿ but can produce lots of part-time or lower-wage retail and restaurant work.Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, recalls that the robust economic growth of the late '90s generated millions of middle-class jobs. And it pushed unemployment so low that short-staffed companies were forced to convert part-time jobs into full-time ones. "Faster growth would fix things," Swonk says. "That's the magic fairy dust."