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Feature Article - Characteristics of underemployed workers
This article describes some of the characteristics of underemployed people, particularly underemployed part-time workers, using results from the ABS Survey of Underemployed Workers. This annual survey focuses on people who worked less than 35 hours in the week prior to the survey and who preferred to work more hours, providing detailed information about their availability to start work with more hours, their preferred number of additional hours, their job search activities, and their experience in looking for work with more hours. Results from the September 2002 survey were released in April 2003 in Underemployed Workers, Australia (cat. no. 6265.0).
UNDEREMPLOYED WORKERS - September 2002
Between September 1994 and September 2002, the number of underemployed people increased by 25%, from 459,000 to 574,000 and the underemployment rate (i.e. underemployed workers as a percentage of the labour force) increased from 5.1% to 5.7%. The underemployed now comprise almost half (48%) of all people with underutilised labour in the labour force, compared with 36% in 1994.
FULL-TIME WORKERS WORKING PART-TIME FOR ECONOMIC REASONS
In September 2002, 8% of underemployed people (48,000 persons) worked part-time for economic reasons, e.g. stood down. Men were more likely than women to be underemployed for these reasons (15% of underemployed men in September 2002, compared with 3% of underemployed women).
UNDEREMPLOYED PART-TIME WORKERS
Most underemployed people (92% in September 2002) are part-time workers wanting more work. The majority of underemployed people are also women, reflecting the fact that women are far more likely to be working part-time than men. In September 2002 there were 1.9 million women working part-time, compared with 749,000 men. However, men working part-time are more likely to be underemployed than women working part-time, although this difference has decreased slightly in recent years. In 1994, 33% of all male part-time workers were underemployed, compared with 17% of female part-time workers. In 2002, these proportions were 27% and 17% respectively.
Underemployed part-time workers tend to be younger than other part-time workers. They are more likely to be aged under 25 years (37% of underemployed part-time workers in September 2002 compared with 30% of all part-time workers) and less likely to be aged 45 years or over (22% compared with 32%).
ALL PART-TIME WORKERS, Age group and sex - September 2002
Geographic distribution and willingness to move
The geographic distribution of underemployed part-time workers, and of underemployed workers as a whole, generally follows that of all part-time workers. In September 2002, part-time workers usually resident in Tasmania, Queensland and New South Wales were the most likely to be underemployed, while those with usual residences in the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and the Northern Territory were least likely to be underemployed. Other than in the Northern Territory, underemployed part-time workers were more likely to state that they would be willing to move intrastate than interstate if offered a suitable job.
UNDEREMPLOYED PART-TIME WORKERS, Whether would move if offered a job - September 2002
Willingness to change occupation or employer
In general, underemployed part-time workers were more prepared to change their occupations to get additional work than change their employers or businesses. Of those who stated a preference, 61% wanted to stay with their current employer, while 50% wanted to change occupations.
UNDEREMPLOYED PART-TIME WORKERS, Whether would change employer or occupation - September 2002
Preferred extra hours
In September 2002, part-time workers who were underemployed preferred to work an average extra 15 hours. Underemployed men wanted more additional hours than underemployed women (17 hours compared with 14 hours). In general, underemployed persons working shorter hours wanted to increase their hours of work by more than those working longer hours.
UNDEREMPLOYED PART-TIME WORKERS - September 2002
Preference for full-time work
While all underemployed workers want to work more hours, not all want to work full-time. Underemployed men are more likely to want full-time work than underemployed women. In September 2002, almost three-quarters (73%) of all underemployed male part-time workers wanted full-time work, compared with nearly half (49%) of underemployed female part-time workers.
Volume of underemployment
Underemployment is usually measured and analysed in terms of 'headcounts', such as the number of people who are underemployed, or the number of underemployed expressed as a proportion of employed people or of the total labour force. However, it can also be analysed in 'volume' measures, i.e. in terms of the number of extra hours sought by underemployed people. In September 2002, employed people performed 328.1 million hours of work during the Labour Force Survey reference week. If underemployed part-time workers had worked their preferred amounts of work, this total would have increased by 8.0 million hours (2.4%).
Job search activities
In September 2002, more than half (56%) of all underemployed part-time workers were actively looking for additional hours of work. The most frequent steps taken by these people to find additional work were contacting prospective employers (66%), looking in newspapers (57%) and asking their current employer for more work (53%). Almost one-quarter (24%) had registered with Centrelink for job search assistance.
Difficulties in finding work
In September 2002, almost one in three (30%) underemployed part-time workers looking for additional hours of work said their main difficulty in finding work with more hours was that there were no vacancies in their line of work, or simply no vacancies at all. For an additional 29%, the main difficulty was that there were too many applicants for available jobs, that they were considered too young or too old by employers, or that they lacked necessary skills or education.
Men were more likely than women to mention one of these five reasons as their main difficulty in finding additional work (62% of male part-time workers looking and available for additional work compared with 56% of females). Women were more likely than men to cite difficulties related to a lack of necessary skills or education (9% of males compared with 12% of females) and unsuitable hours (6% of males compared with 10% of females).
MEASURES OF LABOUR UNDERUTILISATION
The ABS recently introduced two new indicators of labour underutilisation based on the unemployed, the underemployed, and some of the people with marginal attachment to the labour force. These broader measures of underutilised labour help overcome some of the limitations inherent in the unemployment rate for measuring the degree to which labour resources are not fully utilised in the economy.
In September 2002, the labour force underutilisation rate, incorporating unemployed and underemployed people, was almost twice the size of the unemployment rate (12% compared with 6%). The extended labour force underutilisation rate, which includes unemployed people, underemployed people and some people marginally attached to the labour force, was 13%.
UNDERUTILISED LABOUR, Aged 15 years and over - September 2002
For further information on the characteristics of underemployed workers, please contact Jon Havelock on Canberra 02 6252 7747.
Information Paper: Measures of Labour Underutilisation (cat. no. 6296.0) describes concepts behind the ABS measures of labour underutilisation in detail. For further information relating to ABS measures of labour underutilisation, please contact Rhonda de Vos on Canberra 02 6252 7437 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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