Public Release: 

Older, part-time workers' outlook influenced by nature of their employment status

Rutgers study finds part-timers nearing retirement favor raising earnings limit for Social Security recipients, more participation in 401K plans

Rutgers University

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - While the financial and social outlook of many older, part-time American workers depends on whether their employment status is voluntary or due to economic circumstances, three-quarters of part-time workers surveyed said those collecting Social Security benefits should be able to earn more before being taxed.

In a new Rutgers study focusing on older part-time workers, 71 percent said changes in Social Security benefits was the most important policy change the federal government could make. These part-time workers, age 50-plus, also said the minimum wage should be raised, and part-time workers should be able to participate in 401K retirement plans, earn overtime if they work over 35 hours a week and collect unemployment insurance while looking for full-time work.

The study, the latest in the "Work Trends" series of Americans' attitudes about work, employers and government by Rutgers' John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and based on U.S. Census Bureau data and the center's 2015 survey of part-time workers, focuses on part-time workers, age 50 and older. It compares the lives of those working part time by choice to those working less than 35 hours per week, often due to circumstances beyond their control.

"Part-timers age 50 and older who prefer to work part-time are very different in their work experiences, policy opinions and economic situations from part-timers who prefer to work full-time but cannot find a job of this type," said study co-author Carl Van Horn, distinguished professor of public policy and director of the Heldrich Center at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

"Older, involuntary part-timers have been out of work longer, enjoy fewer advantages typically associated with part-time work and report considerable financial difficulties for themselves and their families compared to older, voluntary part-timers in America."

The study found that 91 percent of those working part-time because they can't find a full-time job are the head of their household. This older nonvoluntary part-time worker tends to be white, non-Hispanic, earning less than $50,000 a year.

While 64 percent of workers say they would work part-time even if they did not need the money, 28 percent say they have no choice but to work while the remainder say they work because they enjoy being in the workforce and need the income. Of those surveyed, 25 percent said they retired from a full-time job, and 10 percent said they work part-time because they cannot find full-time work.

Those who are working part-time because they can't find full-time work are two or three times more likely to have their work schedules changed, be given unwanted assignments and receive less respectful treatment. Just one-fifth of involuntary part-time workers - 18 percent of part-time workers age 50 and over - report the highest level of job satisfaction compared to half of the part-timers that choose to work.

Overall, 32 percent of workers 50 or older say they want a full-time job. They are doubtful, however, that this will occur and say planning for retirement is difficult. Sixty-four percent of them say it is somewhat or very unlikely that they could work full-time in their current workplace. Although 45 percent are at least somewhat optimistic about finding full-time work in the next year, 56 percent say the last time they worked full-time was more than five years ago.

While the advantages of part-time work - schedule flexibility, free time, opportunities to explore career options - are attractive to many, older involuntary part-time workers are less likely to capitalize on these possibilities.

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The entire Work Trends report, "The Joys and Disappointments of Older Part-Time Workers," is available at http://www.heldrich.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/products/uploads/Work_Trends_September_2015.pdf

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