The new normal on the employment front: Part-time jobs with no benefits

For those US jobs that won’t or can’t be offshored or automated, the new normal is part-time work with no benefits.

Actually, the new normal isn’t so new. It’s been creeping up on us for 20–30 years. It wasn’t enough for Big Business and the corporate-owned media to convince people trade unions were evil, easing the way for union-busting, resulting in lower wages for workers. That also resulted in replacing older workers they paid more with younger workers they could pay less. Then there was the pesky problem of benefits: pensions, health care, vacations. The pensions problem was solved by tossing workers into 401(k)s, which were never meant to be substitutes for pensions. To relieve themselves of the costs of healthcare and paid vacations, companies began replacing full-time workers with part-timers.

A friend who worked for a major telephone company told me, back in the mid-1980s, that soon there would be no full-timers in her department.

Now, in the midst of the Great Recession—no, it’s not over, despite what Washington says—the part-time madness is spiraling upwards, saving corporations billions in benefits at the expense of their workers and customer satisfaction. But more about that later.

Last week, AlterNet published Poof! Your Job Is Now Freelance, Part-time, No Benefits, subtitled How corporate America used the Great Recession to turn good jobs into bad ones. which it picked up from TomDispatch.com.

The article, written by Barbara Garson, pointed out, “From the end of an ‘average’ American recession, it ordinarily takes slightly less than a year to reach or surpass the previous employment peak. But in June 2013—four full years after the official end of the Great Recession—we had recovered only 6.6 million jobs, or just three-quarters of the 8.7 million jobs we lost.”

Assuming Garson is using government job figures, Paul Craig Roberts would say those are suspect, as most are in low paying jobs for service workers: wait persons, bartenders, hotel housekeepers, retail sales. And Roberts even questions the numbers of those jobs Washington reports when fewer people have money to eat or drink out, spend on hotels or buy consumer goods.

Garson noted, “Here’s the truly mysterious aspect of this ‘recovery’: 21% of the jobs lost during the Great Recession were low wage, meaning they paid $13.83 an hour or less. But 58% of the jobs regained fall into that category. A common explanation for that startling statistic is that the bad jobs are coming back first and the good jobs will follow.

“But let me suggest another explanation: the good jobs are here among us right now—it’s just their wages, their benefits, and the long-term security that have vanished.”

It’s not just through attrition of lay-offs that full-time jobs are being replaced by part-time ones. Garson goes on to point out the “experiences of two workers I initially interviewed for my book Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession and you’ll see just how some companies used the recession to accomplish this magician’s disappearing trick.”

The first worker was a woman who, during her 20-year career “at the Madison Avenue flagship store of a designer brand boutique with several hundred outlets,” had been, more than once, “the company’s top-earning national sales associate” with a loyal, returning, clientele. Now she finds herself a part-timer.

Was this a temporary move until the recession is over? Garson asked. The woman, Ina Bromberg, responded that the company told a fashion website “that in some of the stores they’ve taken all the full time people and made them part-time. And with that, there’s no more sick days, no more vacation days, no more commissions for anyone. They say they’re going to do that to all the stores, even New York.”

Four years later, Ina Bromberg “was the only one of the former sales staff still working there. Her earnings were less than a quarter of what they’d been a few years earlier.”

And here is where customer service comes into play. Actually, it’s in the toilet with inexperienced young workers, many of them college students, as Bromberg told Garson. Given the few hours and low pay they receive, if they have something else to do, they don’t show up for work and Bromberg says she can’t blame them. However, unhappy customers mean fewer sales and, at some point, fewer sales means the company goes under, which shows the lack of even common sense thinking of the greedy cretins at the top.

Finally, the company came clean, according to Garson, “Managers called the remaining full-timers into the office and gave them two choices. They could take a small severance package and collect unemployment or they could stay at truncated versions of their old jobs if they wished, but as part-timers with no benefits and no commissions. In a way, the company had made government unemployment benefits a part of its buyout package. They were saying, in effect: you go voluntarily and we’ll agree that we laid you off.”

The second worker was Greg Feldstein, “a full-time professional doing computer graphics for an educational publisher which produces test preparation materials for school districts. One day during the recession, his company laid off some 20 staffers including him. As far as I can tell, its business wasn’t declining. (Standardized test prep must be one of the last things desperate school districts cut.)”

Four years later, Feldman was piecing together his living by combining a steady but low-paying part-time job with freelance gigs. He still considers himself unemployed.”

Ironically, a day after I read Garson’s piece, I was talking with a friend who had run the local billing and payroll department of a large assisted living facility and who got laid off when the firm’s Midwestern headquarters decided to reorganize and move all billing and payroll to headquarters. She had just interviewed for a job with an upscale department store, scheduled to open in South Florida in October.

Despite her resume and managerial skills, she was offered a job in the fine jewelry department. Part-time, 11 hours a week at $8 an hour, no benefits and no commission. Yet, she was expected to dress in keeping with the store’s upscale image. Not that they had to tell her that. We had a good laugh about Walmart’s or Kmart’s “finest” attire being unacceptable.

While waiting for her interview, she noticed several pretty 20-somethings who had turned up for their interviews wearing tights, skimpy blouses and flip-flops. Just the image to present to a department store whose flagship store is on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.

Of course, the corporate media have paid no attention to this state of affairs, as they go on parroting Washington’s ridiculous job figures and skewed unemployment rates, as corporate profits soar to all-time highs and workers’ wages (for the “lucky” ones who still have jobs, full or part-time) keep sinking. Scant mention is made of the fact that wages have not keep up with inflation since the 1970s—not to mention skewed inflation figures—and are actually going lower and lower for all but the top 10%. At this rate, most will be like Walmart workers who need food stamps and Medicaid to survive, while the top 1%, like the Walton family, go on adding to their billions of dollars and the rest of us pick up the tab to keep their workers from dying.

Bev Conover is the editor and publisher of Intrepid Report. Email her at editor@intrepidreport.com.

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2 Responses to The new normal on the employment front: Part-time jobs with no benefits

  1. This is a sobering article, Bev, for those who are riding on The Ship of Fools our America has become. Those who do not want to see the cracks and fissures in the America that gave some The American Dream as long as they were willing to “work,” for it. The America which no longer serves that American Dream so touted by so many in previous generations.
    While in his Postcards from the End of America, Linh Dinh, presents us with the reality out on the streets of those fissures and cracks you present us with the epicenters, the beginnings, the how did we get to where we are, the beginnings, I repeat myself, of those fissures and cracks in the economy, the jobs market that have taken us to where we are. To Linh Dinh’s End of America.

    Dream? The American Dream? What Dream?

    A neighbor across the street was “let go” from her job of 23 years. The excuse? They told her she had not, “grown,” in those 23 years. She was so hurt she could not even bring herself to ask just how did she not grow, or as just how did they want her/expect her to grow. They threatened her that if she did not take severance pay and go quietly they would not recommend her for another job. It begs the question, after 23 years you want her off your team so badly that you tell her she hasn’t grown? And yet, if she does what you say, you are willing to “recommend” for a position elsewhere?

    She’s in her 50s now. Who is going to want to look at her, much less hire her? After 23 years and a meager severance pay she has been left out on the streets, practically. Her husband has been out of work for quite a while now. The union keeps promising him a job but the job never materializes.

    What does a person who has held only two jobs in her lifetime, the last of which lasted 23 years, do when they are “let go,” and there is no job market out there to speak of?

    What kind of a sad nation have we become?

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