A Snapshot of Philadelphia’s Part-Time Workforce

For this Leading Indicator, we continue our focus on Philadelphia’s workforce – in particular, we look at Philadelphia’s part-time employment population. As we showed in last issue’s data brief, the majority of Philadelphia’s recent employment growth has largely come from foundational-skill and low-wage occupations. This finding, along with the recent growth of the “gig economy,” led us to dive deeper into the growth of Philadelphia’s part-time workforce.


Key Takeaways:

  • Accurately measuring the part-time workforce, especially in today’s labor market, is difficult due in part to the growth of the contingent, gig labor market. We need more refined data collection methods.
  • There are large demographic and economic variations within Philadelphia’s part-time workforce.
  • From 2009 through 2018, the part-time proportion of Philadelphia’s workforce remained stable at around 22 percent, while the nation’s declined from roughly 26 percent to just under 23 percent.
  • There are significant earnings gaps between Non-Hispanic White part-time workers and other racial and ethnic groups in Philadelphia’s labor market, with only Non-Hispanic Whites earning above the city’s part-time median.

Measuring Part-Time Work

Measuring part-time employment is more difficult than one would expect. Traditionally, the U.S. Census Bureau measures employment status by the number of hours an individual has worked in a week. Those who worked more than 34 hours are considered employed full-time, while those who have worked 1 to 34 hours in a week are employed part-time. An individual working multiple part-time jobs would be considered full-time if they have accumulated more than 34 hours in a week.


This moment in economic history is defined, in part, by what we might call “hustling,” or the cobbling together of various income streams by many workers. Our data systems still largely capture payroll employment, making it challenging to capture how today’s workers spend their employment hours – whether they’re working multiple part-time jobs, working a part-time job while attending school or caring for family, working as a consultant under a formal or informal contract, or moonlighting in the evenings or weekends with a part-time job after a full-time job ends for the day. While some national measurements have begun to recognize the importance of new employment measurements (see the Brookings Institution’s brief on independent workers and Cornell University’s Gig Economy Data Hub), local level measurements still favor the traditional salaried employees, aka “W-2” employees. Mindful of these limitations, we set out to determine what we could learn about Philadelphia’s part-time workforce from the data available.


Part-Time Philadelphians

Overall, in the past decade the proportion of part-time workers in Philadelphia’s labor force has remained relatively consistent, per Figure 1 below. Nationally, part-time employment counts have fallen from 26 percent in 2009 to just under 23 percent in 2018, while Philadelphia’s part-time employment has remained relatively stable at around 22 percent, with a slight dip in 2016 and 2017.

Instructions for graphs


NOTE: Data for this graph were obtained from one-year estimates of the American Community Survey. Part-time employment is operationalized as any individual 16 years or older (for whom poverty status was determined) who worked less than 35 hours a week and/or less than 50 weeks in the given year.


The national decline in part-time workers reflects the after-effects of the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. “Involuntary” part-timers—or employees who could not find full-time employment in their field of training—were a major contributing factor in the part-time employment population during the recession [1]. As the recession subsided, however, more employment opportunities allowed workers to acquire more hours and part-time estimates declined.


In major cities like Philadelphia, however, strong growth in sectors like  Accommodations and Food Services and Health Care and Social Assistance creates a constant demand for part-time employment. In addition to these traditional part-time jobs, the explosion of independent employment in the so-called “gig economy” looms larger in the city’s employment count. With the rise of mobile apps that allow people to use their personal vehicles to make deliveries or transport passengers, rent out their living space, and lend their skills to others on a contingent basis, many workers have supplemented their incomes by adding more part-time hours (via “side-gigs”) to their working day [2]. These services tend to see higher demand in urban areas. However, they also rarely allow employees to be financially self-sufficient. Evidence suggests that many, if not most, gig economy jobs provide supplemental income to more traditional payroll employment.


The Part-Time Racial Divide

Despite the overall stability of Philadelphia’s part-time workforce since the Great Recession, there have been significant changes in its demographic composition. Figure 2 compares the part-time population in Philadelphia and across the U.S. by race and ethnicity from 2012 to 2018. In general, as the overall employment picture brightened after the Great Recession, Non-Hispanic White part-time workers in Philadelphia seem to have benefited more readily than non-White part-time workers.



NOTE: Data for this graph were obtained from one-year estimates of the American Community Survey. Part-time employment is operationalized as any individual 16 years or older who worked less than 35 hours a week and/or less than 50 weeks in the given year but still reported earnings for the year.


Figure 2 shows that Black and Non-Hispanic White workers constitute the majority of Philadelphia’s part-time labor force. While the concentration of Non-Hispanic White part-timers has declined by 6.3 percent from 2012 to 2018 (from 42.3% to 36%), the concentration of Black part-timers has bumped slightly upwards (from 38.1% to 38.8%). Similar trends are observed among Latinx workers in Philadelphia, with the part-time share rising from 10.8 percent to 14.1 percent during this period.


Like many other major US cities, Philadelphia is a majority-minority city: according to Pew’s 2019 State of the City report, 34.6 percent of the population in 2017 was Non-Hispanic White, 40.9 percent Black, 14.8 percent Latinx, and 7.5 percent Asian; since 2010, the proportions of both Non-Hispanic Whites and  Blacks has fallen roughly 2 percent each, while the Latinx population has increased. By contrast, the nation’s population is estimated by the U.S. Census in 2019 to be 60.4 percent Non-Hispanic White, 18.3 percent Latinx, 13.4 percent Black, and 5.9 percent Asian.


Nationally, Non-Hispanic Whites accounted for 61.9 percent of the nation’s part-time workforce in 2018 – almost 26 percent greater than Philadelphia’s concentration in 2018 – while the nation’s concentration of Black part-timers in 2018 was 26.5 percent less than that of Philadelphia. While there are major differences between Black and Non-Hispanic White part-time concentrations between Philadelphia and the U.S, the concentrations of Latinx and Asian part-timers in Philadelphia are similar to the U.S. concentrations.


The Part-Time Racial Earnings Gap

Figure 3 compares the median annual earnings of part-time workers in Philadelphia and the U.S. from 2012 to 2018 by race and ethnicity. While in constant dollars, median earnings across all part-time demographic groups declined slightly, the earnings gap between Non-Hispanic White part-time workers and Black, Latinx, and Asian workers was significant during the period. Only Non-Hispanic White part-time workers earned more than the city’s median (roughly 10 percent more annually than their non- White counterparts).



NOTE: Data for this graph were obtained from one-year estimates of the American Community Survey. Part-time employment is operationalized as any individual 16 years or older who worked less than 35 hours a week and/or less than 50 weeks in the given year but still reported earnings for the year.


According to the U.S. Census, the median annual earnings of a part-time worker in Philadelphia in 2018 was approximately $11,093.50; for the U.S. overall, this number is $11,882.50. In Philadelphia, only Non-Hispanic White part-timers are earning more than the city’s 2018 median (a difference of $1,128.50).


The largest discrepancy in earnings was recorded for the Asian part-time population. While Asian part-time workers consistently earn more than any other racial and ethnic group at the national level, Philadelphia’s Asian part-time workforce shows some of the lowest earnings among the groups.


In terms of Black part-time workers, in 2012 Philadelphia’s Black part-time workers earned more than Black part-timers at the national level, but that gap seems to have closed in 2016. By 2018, Philadelphia’s Black part-timers were earning less than Black part-timers nationally. But for Philadelphia’s Latinx part-time population, this gap only seems to be widening; Philadelphia’s Latinx part-timers have consistently earned less than their U.S. part-time counterparts.


A Need for More Clarity

As the above demonstrates, there are significant demographic and economic variations within Philadelphia’s part-time labor market. This brief only provides a snapshot of that population. More work is needed to understand these variations.


Metrics used to capture employment estimates were developed for a workforce that predominantly worked regular salaried jobs from 9AM to 5PM. Today’s labor market is increasingly characterized by irregularity, flexibility, and around-the-clock engagement. These changes, coupled with increased demand for contract and gig work makes it more challenging to create accurate portraits of the labor market, a crucial foundation for policy decisions.


Philadelphia City Council recently passed legislation to create a permanent Department of Labor, from the existing Mayor’s Office of Labor, to act as a regulatory agency that can enforce local labor laws. In addition to its regulatory role, the department will also analyze workforce data in order “to identify opportunities to improve working conditions and more effectively enforce protections” [3]. While the city’s wage and business tax data remain a rich source of information about the labor market, the Economy League stands ready to work with the city to help it design and pursue new data collection methods to create an more accurate understanding of an increasingly complex labor market. Federal data currently provide only a limited window into local-level employment trends. We believe that local governments have a critical role to play in tracking and understanding how residents attempt to make ends meet - a precondition to data-informed policymaking.


Works Cited

[1] Kudlyak, Marianna. 2019. “Involuntary Part-Time Work a Decade after the Recession.” FRBSF Economic Letter, 2019-30: November 25. Retrieved from: (https://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2019/november/involuntary-part-time-work-decade-after-recession/).


[2] Kobie, Nicole. 2018. “What is the gig economy and why is it so controversial?” WIRED, 14 September. Retrieved from: (https://www.wired.co.uk/article/what-is-the-gig-economy-meaning-definition-why-is-it-called-gig-economy).


[3] City Council of Philadelphia. 2020. Council Passes Councilmembers Gym and Henon’s Legislation to Create a Permanent Department of Labor. 13 February. Retrieved from: (http://phlcouncil.com/gym-henon-legislation-to-create-a-permanent-department-of-labor/).