Still Only Part Way Home: Part-Time Work and Underemployment in Illinois and Its Region

48 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2017

See all articles by Lonnie Golden

Lonnie Golden

Pennsylvania State University - Abington College; Economic Policy Institute; Project for Middle Class Renewal

Date Written: October 31, 2017


Despite gradually declining in the US over the last 8 straight years of economic recovery from the Great Recession, the rate of involuntary part-time working remains stubbornly high in the State of Illinois. Over a quarter million workers were employed but working part-time for economic reasons in Illinois. Illinois ranks 10th among the 50 states in the number of involuntary part-time workers. Illinois’ rate of labor underutilization has one in ten workers either fully or partially unemployed, still well above the pre-recession rate and the US national average. Policies are needed to accelerate its return to prior levels.

Examining recent trends and patterns in involuntary part time working finds that involuntary part time working has declined for cyclical reasons but remains elevated for possible structural reasons. In particular, working only part time hours for the reason of “inability to find full time work” has all but plateaued in recent years, and trended upwards over the period since the year 2000 in the US, East-North-Central (ENC) census region and state of Illinois.

The current number of part timers who are working part time for the reason of only being able to find part time work is still more than double the levels observed at the start of the last recession. In Illinois, the number working involuntary part-time escalated from roughly 100,000 to well over 400,000 thousand in 2010, and to date remains well above 200,000 workers.

As a proportion of total employment in Illinois, involuntary part-time workers rose from less than 2 percent to over 9 percent and stayed above 7 percent until 2013. The number has since shrunk to between 4 and 5 percent but remains above the national proportion of 3 to 4 percent. Involuntary part-time working due to “slack work and business conditions,” is still somewhat higher in Illinois and in the 5-state region than in the past.

Within the single key industry of Recreation/Hospitality, in the ENC region, working part time hours involuntarily remains almost double the number at the start of the recession period and displays a steep upward long-term trend through the period. Moreover, when examining transitions, flows of workers out of involuntary part time working and full time employment has become either less rapid or less likely, starting with the Great Recession. Those who were either unemployed or involuntarily part-time 12 months prior are more likely to be involuntarily part time than they were prior to the Recession.

When expanding the scope of underemployment beyond just part timers, the rate of more broadly-defined, time-related underemployment encompasses more than a third of the US and ENC regional work force. The ENC region figure is above all but two of the nine census regions. The prevalence of worker desire to work more hours is disproportionately higher in certain industries, such as retail, food and accommodation and for younger and lower income groups.

Addressing underemployment, for part-time workers and others, requires public policy innovations and reforms that go beyond general economic expansion and job growth. Three sets of policies are proposed here, to both improve the quality of part time jobs and the experience of the job incumbents while curbing employer over-reliance on part-time jobs. This includes unemployment insurance reform and short-time compensation, more predictive (secure, fair) scheduling and providing first or priority access to available work hours for the underemployed part-timers plus an employee right to request additional work hours from their employer without fear of retaliation.

Keywords: Part time work; underemployment; part-time for economic reasons; part-time employment; part-time policy

JEL Classification: J21, J22, J23, J38

Suggested Citation

Golden, Lonnie, Still Only Part Way Home: Part-Time Work and Underemployment in Illinois and Its Region (October 31, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Lonnie Golden (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University - Abington College ( email )

1600 Woodland Rd.
Abington, PA 19001
United States
215-881-7596 (Phone)
215-881-7333 (Fax)

Economic Policy Institute ( email )

1660 L Street NW, Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Project for Middle Class Renewal ( email )

1408 W. Gregory Dr.
Urbana, IL 61801
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics