Part-Time Benefits Deserve Benefits Too: Unemployment Benefits Out of Step With Times- 5/15/2008 – Concord Monitor
In a little noticed development, the New Hampshire Legislature recently acted to help a group that rarely gets attention: part-time workers. Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 502, sponsored by Sen. Maggie Hassan, which extends unemployment benefits to part-time workers.
Business lobbyists did not oppose the bill as all cost estimates were quite modest. It now awaits signature from Gov. John Lynch.
New Hampshire will join 23 other states which provide some benefits to part-time workers who are laid off. The national trend has tilted toward removing part-time restrictions on unemployment benefit eligibility.
It is past time for this recognition. Almost a quarter of New Hampshire workers labor at jobs which offer less than 35 hours a week. Most are long-term workers. Over 70 percent of the part-timers are women. Yet, in most cases, these workers could not qualify unless they stated they were available for full-time work.
The employer community has greatly benefited from the growth of part-time work. Employers gain scheduling flexibility while typically offering lower wages and benefits. More part-timers translate into a savings on overtime costs. It is the rare employer who offers health insurance, vacation or holiday pay to the part-time worker.
Part-time work is a mixed bag for the worker. Much depends on whether it is a voluntary choice. For those juggling work and family responsibilities, a shorter schedule may be a blessing. However, many other workers would prefer full-time jobs if they were available.
Over the past 30 years, a new feature in job growth as been the creation of involuntary part-time employment. These jobs have turned job security into a memory and have reduced worker bargaining power. Labor economist Chris Tilly, author of a book entitled Half A Job, has argued that employers have created part-time jobs to meet their own needs, not to respond to employees’ needs.
The unemployment insurance program has been slow to modernize and acknowledge the changes that have occurred in the labor market. Unemployment insurance is a product of the 1930s. At that time, the model or norm was a male breadwinner employed full-time in the manufacturing sector. The expectation was a wife who did not work. She stayed home with the kids.
The architects of unemployment insurance could never have anticipated the tremendous increase in the number of women in the workforce, the huge growth of two-earner families, or the increasing share of low-wage part-time jobs that characterize our economy. Though, at this point, these are hardly new trends.
New Hampshire has been fortunate that both the Legislature and our state Employment Security, under Commissioner Richard Brothers, have shown a willingness to modernize and consider change which reflects a 21st century labor market.
Brothers, to his credit, championed the part-time bill. This is a contrast with previous Employment Security commissioners who had a hard time with almost any concept of change.
Our current recession makes the part-time legislation particularly timely. It should help more of the low-wage workers who typically have not collected in our state. New Hampshire has had a long tradition of low recipiency for those potentially eligible for unemployment benefits.
The broader context for the part-time issue is how working people are being brutally squeezed now on all fronts. Part-timers have been an almost invisible constituency within labor, rating little media coverage. It is great to see the Legislature stand up to help such an ignored group.