Whether you think the Democrats' attack is fair or not -- and our colleagues at Wonkblog parsed Bush's argument pretty deeply -- there is a real question at hand. And that is just how many part-time and unemployed American workers would like to work more hours? Who are they and why don't they simply do it?
First let's set the stage. Here's what employment looks like in the United States.
In June, nearly 63 percent of individuals over the age of 16 who were interested in working were either doing so or were hunting for a job. You might have heard this figure pop up when the jobs report does; it's known as the "labor-force participation rate," and it's used by skeptics of the Obama economic recovery to argue that many people have simply given up trying to find a job, and that this has superficially improved the unemployment rate (which tracks only those actively seeking work).
Anyhow. It's a figure that's been declining since 2007. And it's a figure that still hasn't returned to pre-recession levels. Economists watch the labor-force participation rate closely because it's seen as an indicator of bigger and important trends such as how much of the population has aged out of the workforce, the matchup between worker skills and jobs and how the costs of working such as childcare and commuting compare to earnings.
So does that mean that all these workers could just elect to go back to working full-time?
OK. So most of those folks are out. What about folks working part time?
But the vast majority -- about 20.4 million part-time workers -- told Labor Department researchers they worked part-time in June for those same "non-economic reasons" mentioned above. In other words, they have other responsibilities that demand their time.
Then consider the number of people already working a lot.
So back to those folks with part-time jobs. About 7.5 million people actually work full- and part-time jobs in some combination. A very small share of that group, 1.8 million people, have two part-time jobs. That figure dropped a little in the last year. But since these workers are concentrated in low-pay industries, some of them would really prefer single full-time job. Still, if they found one, this may not actually translate to more hours than they work right now.
So who really could work more hours?
For now, this is what we know for sure.
About 6.1 million people worked part-time in June because their employer cut their hours or because the only jobs they could find were part-time gigs. These people would ostensibly, in most cases, like to work more. There were about 8.3 million people who were unemployed and another 1.9 million people that the Labor Department considers only marginally attached to the workforce because they haven't looked for work recently.
So, perhaps this whole group, about 16.3 million people -- 10.3 percent of the American labor force in June -- could work more hours, as Bush suggests. That's if they could find an employer who wants and needs them.
Think of them like this slice of the labor-force pie.