The Historical Value of Part-time Work in the United States

Labor is the backbone of the United States Economy. Ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution, labor, not capital, has contributed to the exponential growth of the United States into a premier world superpower. Thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of its laborers and common worker, the United States is what it is right now. 

The industrial revolution started in the 18th century in Britain, but the entire manufacturing process prospered in the United States. The industrial revolution in the United States was perfected because of many factors. The United States had the perfect amount of working-class persons and the right amount of natural resources to feed the beast that is Industry. The term pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is coined mainly for this rise of agricultural and manufacturing centers. Economic mobility back then was easily achieved. It was easy to rise through the ranks. 

In the current atmosphere, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is difficult and impossible to achieve. Because of the limited opportunities for new graduates, and the crushing debt the middle and lower classes are experiencing, everyone grows old before finding success. 

A portion of the population needs to find a second job to be able to make ends meet. According to a recent census from the United States Census Bureau, 13 million people have more than one job. Around 75% of people juggling two jobs have part-time jobs on the side or have two part-time jobs. The job market has been so bad that people with a bachelor’s degree settle for underemployment to pay off their college debts. 

Part-time jobs are seen as both a blessing and a curse in the United States. It has helped millions to keep out of poverty. However, it is a symptom of a bigger problem. 

What is the history behind part-time work in the United States? What is the historical significance of part-time work? 

World War I 

Permanent contracts were the preferred method of dealing with employment post World War I. While the world was still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression of the early 20th century, the International Labor Organization, organized in 1919, pushed for the standardization of employment contracts. Grounds for termination and procedure for appeal were established as standards for permanent employment. 

The development of labor contracts to what is now was not a one-time thing. It took unions and different movements almost half a century to develop the notice of termination as part of the due process requirements. The labor industry wouldn’t have gone anywhere if not for the sacrifices of those who came first. Unions fought for the rights of those employed and unemployed. 

Underutilized Workforce 

Due to the oversaturation of the labor market, a large portion of the labor force was forced to work under a short schedule or below their level of education. For middle and low-wage workers, the nature of the jobs they took had too short hours on a schedule. Inadequate work hours became a presidential campaign issue as involuntary part-time work became widespread.  

It allowed these workers to have space for another job to take on. They are underpaid on the part-time job, but they try to make up for it with their next one. The labor force ends up being overworked, underpaid, and burnt out. While the trend tapered off, part-time work became intensive in specific industries nationwide. 

The Extra Cost of Part-time 

Part-timers, as a workforce, are cheaper than permanent employees. Permanent employees require benefits, paid time off, long service rewards (pension), and job security. Part-timers require none of those. Part-time workers, however, are protected by worker’s compensation laws. The extra cost of maintaining part-time work also involves protecting them when a workplace accident occurs. Part-time work has been a contentious labor issue ever since. Many are contacting personal injury lawyers to squeeze businesses that have been abusing part-time workers.   

Current Legislation 

Thankfully, the legislators have been paying attention to the plight of part-time workers. In 2001, the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act of 2001 was enacted. Minimum standards, almost similar to permanent workers’ benefits, are also given to part-time workers. Pensions were also added into the mix about part-time work. 

We still have a long way to go before improving workers’ rights in the United States. The dream is for an average person to not contract multiple jobs to make ends meet; they should have the means to live a contented life. Hopefully, within our lifetime, average workers can experience the prosperity promised in the American Dream. 


Sudarsan Chakraborty is a professional writer. He contributes to many high-quality blogs. He loves to write on various topics.