Burned Out, More Americans Are Turning to Part-Time Jobs


Part-time work is exploding.

The number of Americans working part-time rose by 1.2 million in December and January compared with the preceding months, according to the Labor Department. Most of that increase—857,000 workers—was driven by people who worked part-time by choice, not because they were unable to find full-time work or their hours were cut.

The total number of people working part-time voluntarily—22.1 million in January—is now almost six times the 4.1 million who are working part-time but would prefer full-time hours. That is the highest ratio in two decades. In the first months of the pandemic, when millions of Americans were laid off and couldn’t find full-time jobs, or saw their hours cut, those numbers were about even. In the 20 years before the Covid-19 pandemic, the ratio typically stayed between three to one and five to one.

In total, 16.3% of the 160 million Americans who were employed in January worked part-time hours, which the Labor Department defines as anything less than 35 hours in a week. 

Monthly number of part-time U.S. workersSource: Federal Reserve Bank of St. LouisNote: For all industries, seasonally adjusted
RECESSIONFor economic reasonsFor noneconomic reasons2019'200510152025million

The increase in part-time workers reflects changes in the U.S. economy and the historically tight labor market, according to economists, employers, and workers. As the pandemic led to burnout among some workers and drove many to reconsider their careers, some have downshifted to part-time roles. 

And with inflation high and prices for food, housing, and other necessities rising, others who had retired or opted out of the workforce are taking on part-time jobs to supplement their household income. 

Longstanding reasons for choosing part-time work, such as caregiving responsibilities, health issues, and school commitments, also remain at play for millions of Americans.

The data could signal a significant shift in Americans’ attitudes toward work. One notable difference between the current job expansion and earlier ones is the share of people working part-time by choice, or for family or personal reasons—all of which the Labor Department calls “noneconomic reasons”—rather than out of necessity. 

“Part-time work for noneconomic reasons is expanding faster than one would think and it seems to have leveled up to a higher level,” said Lonnie Golden, an economist at Penn State Abington who studies the part-time workforce. “I don’t see it trending back.”

Ernie Park had spent a decade in high-level engineering jobs for technology companies when he hit a wall in 2021. Burned out and craving more time with his family, and financially secure thanks to savings from his prior positions and his wife’s full-time job, he quit his job and took on a part-time hourly job and later a temporary consulting role, both at tech firms.

Ernie Park switched to part-time tech work, from full-time, to start a farm and spend more time with his family.


“It was perfect,” he said. “I was able to keep my skills sharp but also have time for the things that are more important to me.” 

During his first year working part-time, he said, he made 25% of his full-time income, working 15% of the time. The family receives health insurance through his wife’s job. 

Mr. Park, 32, now volunteers with foster youth and started a family farm with his parents and other relatives in Hillsborough, N.J., where he raises chickens and vegetables. And he started a newsletter, called Part-Time Tech, to help other technology workers make the leap into part-time work. The newsletter has about 1,000 subscribers, he said. He has started to receive a trickle of inquiries from companies interested in offering more part-time roles.

“A lot of people want to work part-time, but the options aren’t really there,” Mr. Park said. “For companies that get on this, they can scoop up some really great talent.”

The increase in part-time workers suggests that some employers are adjusting to a realization that the abundant labor supply of the past few decades may not continue, said Jeffrey Korzenik, chief economist at Fifth Third Commercial Bank  “When you run out of workers for full-time roles, you start considering part-time options,” he said. “That broadens your effective labor pool. It means working parents, older workers, and others who find part-time labor highly preferable can apply for your roles.”

By switching to part-time work, says Mr. Park, ’I was able to keep my skills sharp but also have time for the things that are more important to me.’


Before the pandemic, Katie Pinard always had a mix of full-time and part-time employees at Elements, the bookstore-bar-cafe she co-owns in Biddeford, Maine. But now, she said, “25 hours is the new 35.” Only one of her 20 employees works a full-time schedule. 

“For a lot of our staff, 25 hours, maybe 30, is the max they have the capacity for,” she said. “It’s partly mental health, partly people making different priorities in their lives.”

To accommodate her employees’ preferences, Ms. Pinard now closes Elements at 6 p.m. or 9 p.m. depending on the day, rather than staying open most days until 10 or 11 p.m., as she did before the pandemic. And she now needs more bodies to work the same number of shifts, which increases costs along with time spent managing people and maintaining the store’s culture and cohesion.

“If someone said, ‘I want full-time hours,’ I would say, ‘delightful, can you start immediately?’ ” she said. “I would love to have more anchors and more consistency.”

A few industries are experiencing rapid growth in part-time work, including K-12 education, healthcare, and recreation services, Labor Department data show.

School systems are now paying around $150 a day for substitute teachers, an amount that has risen about 16% over the past few years as school systems struggle with teacher shortages, said Nicola Soares, president of Kelly Education, a division of staffing agency Kelly Services Inc. that places 20,000 to 40,000 substitutes in schools every day.

Kelly has seen an influx of candidates looking for substitute-teaching roles over the past few months, Ms. Soares said. The jobs attract a mostly female workforce. Substitute teaching allows many women to work during the hours when their own children are in school.

“Our fill rates are up by 10% versus a couple months ago, which says you have more people taking assignments,” Ms. Soares said. “People want to supplement their incomes.”

Others have likely found they can live with lower earnings, said Penn State’s Mr. Golden. With a rise in young people living with parents and older relatives and pandemic programs such as expanded child tax credits that added to Americans’ savings, part-time work became more viable for some people. Some of those programs have since been discontinued.

The increase in part-time workers points to a striking fluidity in today’s labor market, he said: “It’s not just about being all-in or all-out.” 

Earlier in the pandemic, amid lockdowns and restrictions, some workers may have had their hours cut and realized they preferred a less demanding schedule, Mr. Golden said. Others may have decided to cobble together a part-time job with gig work to give them better flexibility to attend to family obligations, he said. Others retired and later decided to step back into the workforce, seeking extra income or the sense of purpose that a job can provide.

Retiree Lamont Cranston, right, and a coworker hang fliers as part of his part-time job with Goodwill Industries.


Lamont Cranston, age 61, retired from his 30-year career as a dietary aide with New York City’s public hospital system just before the pandemic began. For three years, he kept busy volunteering in his housing community in the Bronx. When he attended an event hosted there in late 2022 by the local affiliate of Goodwill Industries, he caught the eye of a Goodwill manager, who asked if he’d be interested in working for the nonprofit group.

Mr. Cranston applied, and now works 20 hours a week as a community coach, helping to enroll local residents in job training and other programs. The work allows him to be paid for doing the community outreach he loves. And by working only part-time, he’s able to maintain his Medicaid and Social Security benefits. 

And the job keeps him active. “I was used to getting up, going to work every day,” he said. The job also helps pay the bills he and his wife, who retired in December, incur. “Rent keeps going up,” he said.

Mr. Cranston, a retired hospital worker, says his part-time job keeps him active. ‘I was used to getting up, going to work every day,’ he says.


The availability of part-time roles may also be drawing women back into the labor force. Female labor-force participation—the share of women who are working or looking for work—dropped steeply in the early months of the pandemic, from 57.9% in February 2020 to 54.6% in May that year. Since then, it has risen most months and stood at 57% in January.

Human resources executive Diane Windemuller worked through the first two years of the pandemic at a healthcare firm in the Boulder, Colo., area, but the stress and unpredictability of that period left her burned out. 

“My adrenaline was high and my interactions weren’t as graceful and friendly as they maybe could have been because I had that edge about me all the time,” the 53-year-old said. “It was a fight-or-flight state all the time.”

The business struggled and laid off some staff, including Ms. Windemuller last spring. She took a few months off to recharge, then began considering her options. Through a company called Reserve Squad, which helps women find flexible work opportunities during career pauses, she found a role consulting part-time for a technology-advisory firm. She works an average of 15 to 20 hours a week.

Female labor-force participation rateSource: Labor DepartmentNote: Seasonally adjusted
RECESSIONJan. 2023: 57%2019'20'21'22'2354.555.055.556.056.557.057.558.0%

Ms. Windemuller, whose husband continues to work full time, said she foresees this arrangement working indefinitely: “It’s a healthier balance for me right now.”

Some companies are experimenting with shrinking full-time jobs into part-time hours and finding that employees have no desire to return to the 40-hour grind. Dozens of British companies participated in a recent study of a four-day workweek, asking staff to work one less day of regular hours, without dropping their pay, effectively giving them an extra paid day off per week. In results released this week, the study’s authors found that 15% of workers said no amount of money could convince them to go back to a five-day workweek.

Many of the traditional downsides to part-time work haven’t changed. Part-time workers generally earn less for similar work than their full-time counterparts and typically don’t qualify for benefits such as healthcare coverage. Mr. Golden has found hourly wages are about 20% less for part-time workers.

Molly Campbell, 35, quit her job as a sixth-grade English teacher in 2022 and decided to transition into corporate training. She has since worked two part-time contract jobs, which she took mainly to bolster her experience and gain access to relevant software and other tools. 

She’s currently working up to 25 hours a week and earning $22 an hour, about four-fifths of her teacher wage. She’d prefer to be working full time and has applied for some jobs, but hasn’t received an offer.

Meanwhile, “it is nice to have that flexibility as far as not being tied down for 40 hours a week,” said Ms. Campbell, who lives in Charlottesville, Va. “The problem for me is just that most part-time positions don’t offer enough for me to be financially comfortable.”

Write to Lauren Weber at Lauren.Weber@wsj.com

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Appeared in the February 25, 2023, print edition as 'Burned Out, More Americans Want to Work Part Time.'

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