Muftic: Economics front and center presidential debate |

Muftic: Economics front and center presidential debate

Felicia Muftic

A mini-firestorm between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush about job creation and part time workers got me digging into the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) site to find just how many part-time workers wanted to work full time.

What I found was the number of part-time workers in June seeking full-time jobs (2 million) is not a high percentage of either part-timers or of the total 149 million labor force. While important to each individual affected, only 10 percent of all part-timers were actually seeking full-time employment. About 78 percent of part-timers were part-timers by choice and the rest cited other economic reasons.

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and now vying for the GOP presidential nomination, started the war of words when he said “that people need to work longer hours,” meaning that part-timers need to become full-timers and there ought to be more full-time jobs for those seeking them. Hillary Clinton seized upon the phrase and in a major economic address said that “what workers wanted was a raise.”

Trend lines based on the BLS statistics also show that the number of those who choose to work part-time has remained steady even through the ups and downs of the economy, but that those part-timers seeking full-time jobs increased especially during the Great Recession of 2008. As the economy has improved, their numbers are still historically high, but decreasing.

A more explosive political issue of concern to 65 percent of voters is the unfairness of the distribution of income. Uncontested is the fact that the middle class has “hollowed out.” Neither party nor candidates can ignore this. The Democrats will force the GOP to defend their plans to help the middle class because Democrats believe their own proposals have more potential appeal to the key factor of “does he/she care about us.”

Expect Democrats to propose stronger Wall Street reform, minimum wage increases, expanding pay for overtime, paid sick leave, increased affordability of a college education, and reform taxes so the secretary does not pay a higher percentage than the boss. Most GOP candidates so far promise to help the middle class by relief to the wealthy and business. That will be a harder sell to the middle class since recent experience has taught them prosperity does not automatically trickle down to them.

Bush claims more full time jobs can be achieved by raising growth to 4 percent per year, though he was vague about how. Bush and GOP candidates need to be pinned down on the specifics because the political devil is in those details. Will it be tax policy, welfare, trade and spending cuts? If so, what gets cut and who benefits?

Is 4 percent growth even possible? Such sustained growth has not happened in most of American history. Five percent growth did happen under President Reagan, but many economists owe that anomaly to an expanding workforce when women began working. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected a 3 percent growth in 2015-2016 and dip in the long term to 2.2 percent due to baby boomers retiring and a shrinking workforce, a rate similar from 2009 to now.

For sources tapped for this column, visit

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