Part time for economic reasons

This page is about one measure of partial unemployment – the fraction of the population that is employed part-time although they would prefer full-time. The main interest is (1) to get at one aspect of idle capacity missed by the unemployment rate and (2) to have a recession indicator.


6 Aug 2014.

The fraction of the population working part-time for economic reasons (PTER) has declined slowly from a peak of around 3% in 2009 to about 2.4% now. This is still historically high, but no longer shockingly so. (Background.)


6 Aug 2014. Data through Jul 2014.

Data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; see background for full definitions.


Part time for economic reasons background (9 Dec 2009) The count of those working “part time for economic reasons” (PTER) is of interest (1) as one measure of unused capacity in the workforce and (2) as a recession indicator. The BLS define PTER as “at work fewer than 35 hours [per week] for … reasons such as slack work, poor business conditions, or only being able to find a part-time job.” The basic idea is part-time but not by personal choice. The survey questions used to classify workers changed in 1994. The intent was to clarify rather than change the concept, but there was a large one-time change in the count. Any study comparing PTER across recessions should use the YOY changes, not the raw levels. Employers often cut back on hours before eliminating jobs altogether; on average the PTER YOY peak occurs a month before the end of the recession, the unemployment rate YOY peak occurs at the end of the recession, and the unemployment rate itself peaks 6 months after the end of the recession. Since the series started in 1956, previous YOY recession highs were in the range 27-64%. Multiple peaks have often been seen in previous recessions.


  • Manual access:
    •; Databases and Tables
    • Scroll down to 'Employment', then 'Monthly', then 'Labor force statistics (Current Population Survey - CPS)', and click 'Top Picks'
    • near the bottom tick 'Persons at work part time for economic reasons' and click 'Retrieve data'
    • 'More formatting options'; Tick 'All years' and 'Original data value'; click 'Retrieve data'.
  • The raw count from BLS is normalized by the US population, taken from NIPA table 2.6

See also