Wal-Mart seeks to increase part-timers
Contrary to popular belief, it's not true that the percentage of part-timers in the U.S. workforce is increasing. But the sheer number of part-timers is growing significantly, and with the nation's largest private employer, Wal-Mart, now seeking to shift more of its employees to part-time status, some economists see growing hardship ahead for more low-income families.
The proportion of part-time workers in the United States has held steady at about 17 to 18 percent over the past decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But because the U.S. workforce has grown during that time, the current numberabout 25 millionactually marks a 6 percent increase over the past 10 years.
Now, Wal-Mart says that in an effort to better serve its customers, especially during busy shopping seasons, it will seek more-flexible work rules for its 1.3 million employees, including more night and weekend hours and an effort to increase its percentage of part-timers. The New York Times reports that the giant retailer has set a goal of a 40 percent part-time workforce; the company denied having a target but said that its share of part-timers had increased substantially in just a year from 20 percent to 25 or 30 percent.
With Wal-Mart already under fire for its treatment of workers and the target of a multistate lobbying campaign by labor unions, the move is prompting fresh criticism. "To be subject to this kind of regime is very difficult for a family," says Heather Boushey, labor economist at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. Especially significant, she says, is the fact that 72 percent of Wal-Mart's employees are women. Not only do irregular shifts make it difficult to plan for child care, but they also reduce the number of employees eligible for healthcare for themselves or their children. Boushey says the Wal-Mart move is likely to add to another growing trend: The number of children eligible for Medicaid, even though one or both parents are working, has doubled in recent years.
Wal-Mart has pointed out that its competitors, including Sears and Target, are making similar moves. And analysts say retailers, who bring in most of their business on nights and weekends, must aim to make their workforces more flexible. Wal-Mart has been under pressure from Wall Street because its stock price has fallen 10 percent in the past three years.