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Reconceiving part-time work; new perspectives for older workers and women.

Reconceiving Part-Time Work: New Perspectives for Older Workers and Women.

By Hilda Kahne. Totowa, NJ, Rowman & Allanheld, Publishers, 1985. 180 pp. $13.95, paper (1987 ed.).

Signs bearing the message, "Help Wanted--Immediate Part-Time Openings Available,' appear in many retail and services businesses. Faced with a shrinking teenage population, employers are scrambling to find other sources of labor. Older Americans have been singled out for a major recruiting effort, in part because public opinion polls indicate they are interested in working part time. Hilda Kahne's book is a thorough examination of how the expansion of part-time opportunities for older Americans could benefit workers, employers, and society as a whole. Unfortunately, the author clouds the issues by limiting her analysis to jobs that fit a mold she terms "new concept' part-time work.

Opportunities for part-time employment are expected to increase because such work is concentrated in the expanding retail trade and services industries. Demand for part-time jobs also will rise, as individuals who desire limited work schedules, for example, women and older workers, become an increasing portion of the labor force. Kahne focuses on older workers. Part-time employment also offers older workers a way to ease the transition into retirement and a source of supplementary income.

Despite the benefits to workers and employers, some factors limit the availability and desirability of part-time work. Unions often oppose the expansion of part-time employment because they view it as a threat to the jobs of full-time workers. Some employers believe part-time workers add disproportionately to administrative costs and that they lack a commitment to their jobs. As a result, part-time schedules are generally available only in low-pay and low-status positions.

Kahne's examination of the trends in part-time employment and its attraction to older Americans is thorough. Kahne's contention that part-time employment can benefit both workers and employers is generally persuasive. However, she detracts from her analysis by limiting the discussion to "new concept' part-time jobs. Such jobs have prorated full-time earnings, some fringe benefits, and perhaps career potential. Thus, "new concept' employment differs fundamentally from most part-time jobs which Kahne states have low wages, no fringe benefits, and little status. Sources of "new concept' work include programs in which two employees share one full-time job (job sharing) or work a reduced schedule as an alternative to complete retirement.

The difficulty with Kahne's focus on "new concept' jobs arises from her assertion that only these jobs provide the advantages workers seek from part-time employment. It follows that an analysis of older workers' desire for part-time employment can be judged only when more "new concept' jobs are available. This clearly seems wrong.

While some part-time jobs may fall neatly into a good job (new concept)/bad job dichotomy, most do not. Many jobs have some, but not all, of the characteristics of "new concept' work, and these may be well-suited to the needs of older workers. An older worker, for example, may value a flexible work schedule more than promotion potential. Undoubtedly, better pay, fringe benefits, and greater status would make part-time employment more attractive and advantageous to older Americans. However, part-time work, as it currently exists in the labor market, also has attractions. Kahne's book would have been an even more welcome contribution to the literature on part-time employment and older workers if she had dealt with the labor market as it is, rather than as she wishes it to be.
COPYRIGHT 1987 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Nardone, Thomas
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1987
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