In Spain there are 1.68 million workers who would like to work (and get paid) more hours than they are stipulated. They are the so-called underemployed and represent 8% of the total number of employed people, according to figures from the Active Population Survey (EPA) for the second quarter. The reasons for wanting longer working hours are very diverse, but the most common is usually economic: to get out of what is called working poverty—people for whom receiving a salary does not put them above the poverty line—or to improve your professional development in a company.
This is the case of Juan, a graphic designer, who worked for more than ten years with a contract for four hours a day, but on several occasions claimed a seven or eight hour full-time day, like the majority of his colleagues. “I didn’t consider looking for another job because I was very comfortable and I trusted that at some point they would extend my working day,” says this Madrid native. Finally, the opportunity came recently after early retirement: her hours and his salary practically doubled from one day to the next.
He is not the only one who, after trying for a while, has managed to extend his part-time to full-time. In fact, statistical data indicate that the number of underemployed people has been progressively reduced since the 2008 financial crisis. Specifically, since 2014, when, on the verge of recovery from that debacle, underemployment weighed almost twice as much in the labor market. Spanish: it affected more than 14% of employed people. At that time there were 2.5 million workers who wanted to work more hours than their contract stated, in a market that did not reach 17 million employed people.
During the search for personal cases of underemployed people to carry out this report, the profile of the worker affected by this situation has become clear: 61% are women (one million female workers compared to 655,000 men): 58% have different levels of education secondary; and 31% work in catering, care, security and sales services, while another 30% carry out basic professions in agriculture or assembly lines, for example.
In the third sector economy, in which care services are part of, there are also numerous cases of underemployed workers, especially because they tend to be companies that depend on subsidies. Míriam, 45, is a social worker who started out as a part-time employee at her current company; After requesting an extension of the working day, her bosses raised her from four to five hours; and later, seven hours a week, which is how she currently is (90% of the day). “Now they are finally going to hire me full-time (eight hours), but only until the end of the year, since the company reserves the right to reduce the number of hours again if the subsidy is not maintained,” says this social worker.
How to analyze the phenomenon
The fact that the underemployed group reduces its weight in the labor market is interpreted by economists as an improvement in the quality of employment. This has been highlighted in several of his interventions by the professor of Applied Economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Josep Oliver, who finds in the reduction of underemployment a clear indicator of recovery of the labor market after a crisis.
In this same sense, the economist and professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Marcel Jansen, an expert in labor markets, highlights the importance of measuring underemployment and not just unemployment. “Both situations represent clear communicating vessels; you can go from unemployment to underemployment and, from there, to full-time employment and vice versa; But, also, if you go through a very solid economic recovery, you can skip underemployment and go directly from being unemployed to having a full-time job.”
Furthermore, Jansen, also a researcher at Fedea, defends underemployment as a labor indicator because it reflects the slack in the labor market (difference between the employment that workers aspire to and what companies demand). In his opinion, “documenting this situation well, with data, is essential to have the necessary information to take regulatory measures.” Precisely, in the last legislature “many measures were taken to improve the quality of employment, and some were very successful, but not so many to encourage the generation of new jobs,” says Jansen.
Also for the International Labor Organization (ILO) “measuring unemployment is not enough to understand the deficiencies of a country’s labor market.” According to this international organization, to analyze the health of a country’s labor system, it is equally essential to evaluate its underemployment. The ILO’s generic definition of an underemployed person is someone who “usually performs less productive work than they could and would like to perform.” Although in Spain, the National Employment Institute (INE) defines it as “a group of employed people who wish to work more hours, who are available to do so and whose effective working hours in the reference week are lower than the weekly hours they usually “those employed full-time work in the branch of activity in which the underemployed person has their main job.”
However, there are other ways to approach underemployment. This can swell a broader group, if what is measured is the rate of underutilization of work, which is evaluated with an indicator called U6 and which—as explained by Florentino Felgueroso and Marcel Jansen in the blog Nada es gratis—includes the group of unemployed to people who want to work, but are not looking for work, as well as to those who work part-time because they cannot find full-time employment (underemployed). According to this measurement, currently almost 20% of assets would be underutilized for work in Spain, which is almost nine points more than the official unemployment rate (11.6%).
That said, Iñaki Ortega, doctor in Economics from the University of La Rioja (UNIR) and LLYC, adds another derivative in the analysis of underemployment, as the cause of an increase in the number of workers with more than one job (multiple employees). . Multiple employment, unlike underemployment, has grown by 7% in one year, although it has a much lower weight in the employed population (2.8% of the total) than that of employees who want to work more hours. According to his thesis, moonlighting is made up of two very different types of underemployed workers, who in this case have more than one job.
Firstly, it places those who, in general, have elementary occupations and are involuntarily hired part-time and need to have more than one underemployment to cover their needs. But, Ortega also indicates the existence of another group of underemployed, in professions where technology has facilitated their development through teleworking, such as telephone service, or other more qualified ones (teaching, remote computer assistance, consulting, etc.) ” that allow the worker a professional development that before, the traditional, full-time, face-to-face economy did not allow them,” explains this economist.
Numerous examples of these situations can be found in the education sector. Especially in the field of private universities. This happens to Laura, a teacher who has a 14-hour weekly contract, of a fixed, discontinuous nature (she teaches her classes six months on and six months off), which she complements with another 12-hour weekly contract at another university center. However, unlike the other cases cited, Laura assures that it seems unattainable for her to obtain a single job as a university professor that would cover a full working day.
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