Project Overview

Underemployment—when people involuntarily work part-time hours despite a desire for more hours or full-time work—may harm workers’ well-being and suppress their economic mobility. Underemployment may stem from both cyclical and longer-term structural forces, giving rise to more part-time jobs than workers want. Although there is a general estimates of how many workers are engaged in involuntary part-time work, federal data underestimates the scope of underemployment in the US and insufficiently tracks its adverse effects on people, families, and communities.

This project aims to address knowledge gaps on underemployment by painting a more detailed picture of who these workers are across a variety of dimensions, including their demographic characteristics, scheduling conditions, industry, occupation, wage and household income levels. The project also aims to better understand the effects of underemployment on both workers’ mobility in the labor market and their health and economic security, particularly compared with those who work full time or part time voluntarily. The project is particularly concerned with how unstable hours and scheduling, experienced by many part-time workers, shape outcomes.

The project team will use two nationally representative datasets and field a new survey to document the current pattern and effects of underemployment, with special attention to how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the experiences of the underemployed population, and they’ll infer how we might better mitigate these with public policies.


Social determinants of work Executive Summary July 13, 2023

The Rise and Fall of Underemployment: Implications for Workers' Health

This brief offers an overview of the literature exploring the connection between underemployment and health outcomes. Public policies can be crucial in mitigating the negative health effects associated with underemployment. However, more comprehensive data on transitions into and out of underemployment are required to inform future research and policy initiatives.

Lonnie Golden, Jaeseung Kim

Grantee Research

July 13, 2023