Newton Ingram typically begins his workday at 5 a.m., sorting packages at a UPS plant. Four hours later, he clocks out, slips home for a nap and then starts a new shift at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where he mans a curbside check-in booth for Southwest Airlines.
This routine nets Ingram, 52, about $28,000 per year. He's been patching together such 40-hour weeks for a decade.
He didn’t think it would take this long to land a full-time position.
“One of these jobs will offer that full-time opportunity, and that’s the direction I’ll go,” Ingram said. “I like the work. I want to stay. But doing both — it’s mentally and physically draining. It’s hard to get by.”
President Trump often touts the “roaring” economy, and it’s true the country’s engine is running smoothly by some important metrics: The unemployment rate now sits at a 17-year low, and the United States just recorded its 100th straight month of job growth.
But 4.8 million Americans still report feeling stuck in a part-time job when they desire full-time work, according to Friday’s jobs report, even as employers nationwide complain about labor shortages.
Before the downturn, in the first quarter of 2007, only 2.9 percent of workers identified as “involuntary” part-timers, government data show. That share surged up to 6.7 percent by March 2010 and dropped down at last year’s end to 3.8 percent.
October brought more improvement, with 369,000 more Americans exiting unwanted part-time status, shrinking the percentage of involuntary part-timers to 3.4 percent. Still, the country has not returned to pre-crisis levels on this measure, which worries some economists.
“We are continuing to see this steady improvement, but there is still this slack in the labor market,” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.
As much as 40 percent of workers, in general, say they would like more hours, according to an analysis of national estimates by Lonnie Golden, senior research analyst on the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“They’re trying to keep up with expenses,” he said. “There’s college tuition, the rent and wages are flat. Even people with 40-hour weeks are hungry for overtime.”
Pay growth has stalled over the past 10 years, dropping from a 4.2 percent year-over-year boost in March 2007 to last month’s dismal 2.3 percent. Economists blame the stagnation on the waning power of unions and the proliferation of lower-paid jobs (such as elder care roles) as the number of better compensated positions (such as factory work) has declined.
The underemployment trend is more pronounced in some Midwestern areas, Golden added. In Illinois, for example, the current number of part-timers who seek more hours — roughly 200,000 — is still double what it was before the recession.
Some employers, too, continue to “over rely” on a part-time workforce, particularly in hospitality, retail and food, he said. That keeps staffing costs down, since companies don’t have to pay benefits.
Ingram, the Florida worker juggling two jobs, figured he would have to prove himself before a full-time position opened at either company.
At UPS, which pays him about $18 an hour, package sorters can get promoted into truck-driving roles, which come with full-time hours and higher wages.
“Those jobs go to senior employees,” he said. “I knew I’d have to put in time.”
At the airport, the Service Employees International Union, which represents Ingram and other customer service employees, is pushing for more full-time jobs.
So he remains hopeful. But he wishes politicians would remember workers like him.
“These full-time jobs they talk about — a lot of the time they are low-paying jobs, like the majority of jobs I see,” Ingram said. “I want the American Dream I’ve been working toward.”
After the monthly mortgage payment on the townhouse he shares with his wife, there’s little cash leftover for anything but groceries and gas for his 250-mile weekly commute. For his birthday next week, he might indulge in an ice cream cake.
The last time the couple splurged, Ingram said, was about six months ago, at an Italian restaurant for their 12th wedding anniversary.
“I want to be able to take my wife on dates,” he said, “without worrying about the bills.”