U.S. businesses are hiring at a robust rate. The only problem is that three out of four of the nearly 1 million hires this year are part-time and many of the jobs are low-paid.
Faltering economic growth at home and abroad and concern that President Barack Obama's signature health care law will drive up business costs are behind the wariness about taking on full-time staff, executives at staffing and payroll firms say.
Employers say part-timers offer them flexibility.
If the economy picks up, they can quickly offer full-time work. If orders dry up, they know costs are under control. It also helps them to curb costs they might face under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
This can all become a less-than-virtuous cycle as new employees, who are mainly in lower wage businesses such as retail and food services, do not have the disposable income to drive demand for goods and services.
Some economists, however, say the surge in reliance on part-time workers will fade as the economy strengthens and businesses gain more certainty over how they will be impacted by Obamacare.
Executives at several staffing firms told Reuters that the law, which requires employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide healthcare coverage or incur penalties, was a frequently cited factor in requests for part-time workers. A decision to delay the mandate until 2015 has not made much of a difference in hiring decisions, they added.
"Us and other people are hiring part-time because we don't know what the costs are going to be to hire full-time," said Steven Raz, founder of Cornerstone Search Group, a staffing firm in Parsippany, New Jersey. "We are being cautious."
Raz said his company started seeing a rise in part-time positions in late 2012 and the trend gathered steam early this year. He estimates his firm has seen an increase of between 10 percent and 15 percent compared with last year. Other staffing firms have also noted a shift.
"They have put some of the full-time positions on hold and are hiring part-time employees so they won't have to pay out the benefits," said Client Staffing Solutions' Darin