Monday, June 7, 2010

More Part-Time and Short-Term Jobs

This could be a tough time for high school students to find a summer job. More than ever before, they’ll be competing with their parents and grandparents for whatever jobs are available this summer.

In the U.S. job market, the proportion of long-term full-time jobs is the lowest it has ever been. Only about two out of three workers who want a permanent full-time job have one. Others are working at temporary or part-time jobs, or are trying to start new business (which usually means freelancing), or are unemployed.

One of the hidden trends in the job market is the trend toward short-term jobs. In the past, many of the jobs categorized as temporary were expected to last two or three years, or as long as many workers stay at one job anyway. Temporary jobs now have a shorter life span, with few of the employers making plans beyond three months. Temporary work is a big deal in this spring’s employment statistics, with the decennial census accounting for virtually all of the growth in employment. Some observers think that short-term and part-time jobs are a long-term trend, and that within five years, less than half of workers will be able to get permanent full-time jobs.

My own history is proof that relying on a combination of short-term and freelance work doesn’t have to slow down a career, and indeed, this has long been the norm in some sectors, such as construction and entertainment. But people who have had their minds set on the stability of a permanent full-time job can find working at a series of short-term jobs unsettling, at least for the first three to five years. And the irregular nature of the income forces people to take a different approach to their finances. Paying off debts and saving 6 months of living expenses have to become higher spending priorities than dessert or cable TV.

In economic terms, the trend toward short-term jobs means more consumer deleveraging is on the way. You can add this effect to a long list of reasons why consumers aren’t prepared to lead an economic recovery.