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Part Time in America

The number of challenges for part time workers can seem insurmountable and difficult

for many of us to fully understand. Creating effective policy to help address these difficulties

can only be accomplished when we understand the depth and breadth of these challenges. Working part time for giant corporations all too ofter puts workers at a disadvantage. Many of these large organizations want that situation to stay exactly as it is. Let’s take a look at some of these disadvantages.

For most part time workers, part time is not the same time a few days each week. We

may think it would mean 1-4pm every Tuesday and Thursday… not true. Usually, it changes from week to week. The worker may be scheduled to work a few hours Monday morning, afternoon on Tuesday, afternoon on Wednesday, not at all on Thursday and then both morning and afternoon on Friday. Sometimes hours on Saturday and Sunday too. However, the total hours do not add up to 40, so the business is not obligated to provide benefits like health insurance. Typically, part time workers are at the lower end of the wage scale as well.

To make matters worse, this kind of schedule can change entirely each week, with little

notice. One week may be a 20 hour week, while the next is 36 or 12. How do you schedule

child care? How do you budget for household expenses when pay varies so widely is a challenge most of us never face, but that is a reality for many part time workers. Do you prioritize food? Rent? Medical bills?

With such high variability from week to week getting a second part time job can be very

difficult if not impossible. So, the worker is almost trapped in this situation.

For the corporation this situation is great! They can pay minimal wages and no benefits

and get the flexibility of workers’ time that they want so they can hire as few as possible. It

would be easy to characterize these businesses as miserly and evil. They would see it as

maximizing shareholder value and being responsible to the investors who own their stock.

When you hear corporate CEO’s complain “we can’t find workers who are willing to

work” consider the jobs and conditions they are offering to workers. If you had the option,

would you take that job?

In his book Poverty, by America, Matthew Desmond lays out the impact of these kind of

low income jobs on members of our community. No benefits means having the least access to healthcare, which leads many to put off care until symptoms become unbearable. Treatment then becomes more involved and more expensive: the cavity becomes an infected tooth, becomes an abscess. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called Obamacare, does create access to health insurance for many. The ACA insurance is not free, there is still an expense. Sometimes Medicaid can fill the void, sometimes not. Having access to legal support to counter efforts by unscrupulous landlords is a dream. Getting a good rate on a car loan is out of the question.

In too many cases, our taxes subsidize this arrangement as part time workers for large

businesses, especially the "big box stores," earn so little that they are eligible for food stamps. Our taxes subsidize the business’s advantage over their workers.

Often legislative solutions are focused on income tax as a solution. The Biden administration’s effort is to ensure large corporations and the very wealthy pay their fair share. Our Senator, Dick Durbin, has begun a process of information gathering to address the work rule and pay side of this issue, but that legislation may be far off and is sure to see a massive lobbying effort by the large stores that would be impacted. Despite that, it is important for Democrats to advocate for these changes that bring greater fairness to the workplace.

On an individual basis, there is not too much we can do other than urge our elected

officials to create fairness legislation. When shopping consider if the big box stores are the

best for your community and neighbors.

When you vote, consider if your vote is going to someone, like Senator Durbin, who

stands with workers or someone like Rep. LaHood who stands with the giant corporations.

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