WASHINGTON - Just when you thought that America's labor market was improving, with employment gains averaging about 200,000 a month, comes Mort Zuckerman, real estate magnate and chairman of U.S. News & World Report, throwing cold water on any optimism.
The truth, writes Zuckerman in The Wall Street Journal, is that, according to the Labor Department's household survey, almost three-quarters of new jobs in 2013 have been part-time.
These need to be discounted in judging the economy's strength, argues Zuckerman.
"At this stage of an expansion you would expect the number of part-time jobs to be declining, as companies would be doing more full-time hiring," he writes.
"Not this time. In the long misery of this post-recession period, we have an extraordinary situation: Americans by the millions are in part-time work because there are no other employment opportunities."
To Zuckerman, work is increasingly catch-as-catch-can, with firms relying more "on independent contractors and part-time, temporary and seasonal employees."
He also blames the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which has been criticized as discouraging full-time hiring.
Companies with fewer than 50 full-time workers don't have to provide health insurance; nor are part-time employees (defined as less than 30 hours a week) entitled to company coverage.
These are powerful deterrents to adding full-time workers.
On some counts, Zuckerman's critique is overwrought.
For starters, it belittles genuine job progress. Gains since the recession's trough in 2009, though inadequate, are still substantial.
"Companies [now] seem to be holding on to their employees," says economist Beth Ann Bovino of Standard & Poor's.
Initial weekly unemployment claims peaked at about 650,000; now they're about half that, 334,000 in a recent week, she says. The official unemployment rate has dropped from 10 percent in October 2009 to 7.6 percent.
A broader measure (called the U-6), which includes involuntary part-time workers and people out of the labor force who want a job, is down to 14.3 percent from 17.1 percent.
Nor is there much evidence that, in the recovery, part-time workers have represented a disproportionate share of new jobs.