Millions of part-timers long for full-time work

The U.S. economy is recovering, but some glaring problems remain on the jobs front. One of those is all the people who have been forced into part-time employment when they would much rather be working a full-time schedule.

About 7 million Americans are in part-time jobs because their hours were cut back or because they can't find full-time work. That's down by about 700,000 over the last year, but still well above prerecession levels.

These workers often have little choice but to accept part-time work and the diminished wages that brings. It's yet another reason Americans are largely down on the economy long after the recession ended.

Many of those workers are still holding out hope for a better gig. A new CareerBuilder study shows that 32 percent of part-time workers want to work full time, but can't find a full-time job.

The survey shows just how financially damaging the situation can be. Nearly a third of these workers are the sole breadwinners in the family, and 39 percent say they're struggling to make ends meet, according to CareerBuilder. The survey interviewed 301 part-time workers earlier this year.

Why can't they find full-time positions? They gave the following reasons:

  • 54 percent said there weren't as many open jobs in their field
  • 51 percent said they didn't have the right skills
  • 31 percent said they haven't been regularly looking for full-time jobs
  • 29 percent said they didn't have the right education

The economic recovery has been kinder to those with college degrees. The unemployment rate for people with a bachelor's degree or higher is 3.1 percent, down from 3.8 percent a year ago. But for those who didn't graduate from high school, the rate rises to 7.9 percent, down from 10.8 percent a year ago.

That falls in line with the CareerBuilder survey, which found that 40 percent of part-time workers wanting to go full-time had a high school degree or did not finish high school. That's much higher than the 27 percent of part-timers with college degrees who sought full-time work.

Missing out on full-time jobs is taking a toll on some workers' lives, the survey found. The part-time workers said the lack of adequate income has led to the following struggles:

  • 31 percent downgraded their lifestyle, including switching to a cheaper car or canceling cable
  • 29 percent borrowed money from family or friends
  • 23 percent suffered from depression
  • 22 percent moved in with their parents
  • 17 percent racked up high credit card debt
  • 14 percent had health issues

One CareerBuilder executive suggested that part-time workers look at their jobs as a way to learn new skills, develop more contacts and explore a new career path. They should also connect with their desired companies so they can be the first to hear about job openings.

"Though we're seeing an uptick in full-time, permanent hiring, many workers are still having difficulty finding positions in their field of expertise," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, in a statement accompanying the survey results.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.