Nearly one in five adults—including one in four Hispanic and black adults—were not working full time and wanted more work in late 2019. Many adults also performed gig activities in the month before the survey—both online and offline. Gig activities are treated separately from formal employment in the SHED. Were people who spent more than 20 hours in the last month on gig activities counted as employed, irrespective of any other formal employment, it would increase the share of adults considered to have worked in the month before the survey by 2 percentage points. This increase is equivalent to adding 13 percent more part-time workers.18
Wanting to Work
Despite a strong economy at the time of the survey, nearly one in five adults were not working full time and said that they would have liked more work. Eleven percent of adults wanted to work and were not working in the month before the survey; 7 percent wanted more work and were working part time.
The share of people who would have liked more work, but were not working full time, varied by race, ethnicity, and education (figure 8). Black and Hispanic adults were disproportionately likely to say that they would have liked to work more, with one in four saying they would like to do so. Adults with less education were also more likely to want more work. One-quarter of all adults with a high school degree or less were not working full time and wanted more work, compared with 10 percent of bachelor's degree recipients.
Part-time workers were more likely to say they wanted more work than were adults who were not working at all. Forty-six percent of part-time workers said they wanted more work in the month before the survey. This compares to 31 percent of adults who were not working.
There are several reasons people who wanted to work more were not doing so. These included a lack of available work, as well as other constraints on people's time. Collectively, half of people wanting more work indicated that a lack of opportunities contributed to their employment situation, including 72 percent of part-time workers and 36 percent of non-workers.19 Yet substantial numbers also cited other reasons, including 37 percent who cited childcare or family obligations and 35 percent who cited health limitations.
Reasons for Not Working
Prime-age adults, or adults ages 25 to 54, have often completed their education and are healthy enough to work. But about one in five of this group reported not working in the month leading up to the survey.
Health limitations, childcare, family obligations, and an inability to find a job kept some prime-age adults from working (figure 9). Thirty-nine percent of non-working prime-age adults said that health limitations contributed to their not working. Thirty-eight percent said that household responsibilities contributed to their not working—including 21 percent who specifically cited childcare. Twenty-three percent said they were not working because they could not find work. Relatively few prime-age adults reported that they were not working because they were in school or retired.
Women who were not working disproportionately said that household responsibilities—childcare and family obligations—kept them from working in formal employment. Forty-six percent of non-working prime-age women cited these household responsibilities (figure 10). Non-working women ages 30 to 44 were the most likely to cite household responsibilities, at 54 percent.
By contrast, men who were not working often said they either had trouble finding work or that they had health limitations. Forty-six percent cited health limitations or a disability, and 28 percent said they could not find work. A smaller 23 percent cited household responsibilities.
Household responsibilities are particularly a barrier to two-earner couples. Half of non-working prime-age adults whose partner worked cited household responsibilities as a reason for not working themselves. For comparison, 3 in 10 of those in a couple where neither partner worked said that household responsibilities contributed to their employment decision.
Part-Time and Temporary Jobs
In 2019, most workers had full-time, permanent positions, but 15 percent of adults worked part time and 5 percent said that their main job was a temporary position (usually part-time).
People who had a part-time or temporary job reported more financial strain than people who worked full time. Thirty-one percent of part-time and temporary workers said that they were either just getting by or finding it difficult to get by. A smaller 20 percent of full-time, permanent workers exhibited this level of financial strain.
Part-time work was more common among women than among men. It was also more common in rural areas. Eighteen percent of women worked part time, while 12 percent of men did. Similarly, 18 percent of adults in rural areas worked part-time jobs, compared to 15 percent of adults who lived in or near cities.
Schedules and Workplaces
When and where people work can affect their financial well-being. Seventeen percent of employees had a work schedule that varied based on their employers' needs, and 9 percent had a schedule that varied at their own request. Collectively, one-fourth of employees had a varying work schedule. Working an irregular schedule was often associated with financial strain, but not uniformly so. Sixty-eight percent of workers with a schedule that varied based on their employer's needs said that they were doing at least okay financially (table 7). This compares to 79 percent of workers with a fixed schedule who said that they were doing at least okay financially.
Table 7. Doing at least okay financially (by work schedule and usual work location)
|Schedule and location
|Usual work schedule
|Normally work same hours
|Varies by my own needs
|Varies by employer's need
|Usual work location
|A place belonging to my employer
Note: Among adults working for someone else.
Working at a job site, or at a customer's location, can also add uncertainty in a worker's day. Nine percent of adults who worked for someone else did their work at a place that is neither their home nor a place that belongs to their employer (remote locations). Seven percent worked from home most of the time, with that fraction being slightly higher (7 percent) among those living in or near cities compared to those in rural areas (5 percent).
Workers without college educations were more likely to work at remote locations than workers with more education (figure 11). But more workers with a bachelor's degree (9 percent) worked from home, compared to those with no education beyond a high school degree (4 percent). The difference in rates of working from home by education level was amplified during the extensive social distancing in April 2020 (see the "Financial Repercussions from COVID-19" section of this report).
The Gig Economy
Gig activities (gigs) in this report include childcare, house cleaning, ride sharing, selling goods, and renting out property.20 Most gigs predate the internet, though some occur online. They do not always fit into standard concepts of "employment" because people can do gigs occasionally and without firm time commitments. Yet gigs could help people to supplement incomes in difficult times, and for a few people, they are a primary source of income.21
Nearly one in three adults earned money from gigs. However, most only spent a few hours per month on these activities. A smaller 1 in 10 adults were "regular" gig workers, defined here as someone who spent at least 20 hours in the prior month on gigs.
Among regular gig workers (those who spent at least 20 hours per month on gigs), 47 percent also reported working full time, whereas 33 percent also reported working part time. About one-fifth of regular gig workers did not do other work for pay or profit in the last month. Hence, 2 percent of adults spent at least 20 hours in the month before the survey on gig activities, despite saying that they did not work in that month. People only performing gig activities are not included as employed in the SHED. However, were they counted as employed, it would increase the number of part-time workers in the survey by 13 percent.
Selling goods makes up a substantial share of gig activities reported in 2019 (figure 12). Fourteen percent of all adults sold goods to make money in the month before the survey, including 9 percent who sold goods online and 8 percent who sold goods in person (3 percent did both). Among people who sold goods, nearly three-fourths sold goods that they previously owned for their own use, such as used clothing. People less frequently sold goods that they acquired to resell, made themselves, or sold on behalf of a company (table 8).
Table 8. Types of items sold in the gig economy
|Previously owned items for own personal use
|Purchased items to resell for a profit
|Made or repurposed items
|Items sold on behalf of a company
Note: Among adults selling goods as a gig activity. Respondents could select multiple answers.
Other gigs include activities such as house cleaning, yard work, childcare, renting out property, dog walking, and ride sharing. Seven percent of adults said they earned money doing house cleaning, yard work, or maintenance in the last month. Additionally, 4 percent provided childcare, 4 percent rented out property, 3 percent earned money by dog walking, and 3 percent drove to earn money.
Gigs that are coordinated online have received a lot of attention, but in 2019 most people coordinated gigs without apps or online platforms. Thirteen percent of adults who performed gig activities both found customers and received payments through an app or online platform, while the rest found customers or received payments some other way. Apps were slightly more common among regular gig workers, although even among this group just 19 percent used an app or online platform both to find customers and to receive payments.
Few relied on gigs as a primary source of income at the time of the survey. Three percent of all adults (9 percent of people who reported doing gigs in the month before the survey) earned at least half of their income in the past year from gigs. Only 3 percent of all adults said that they performed gig activities primarily because it was their primary source of income in the past month (figure 13). Fifteen percent said that the main reason was to earn additional income, and 7 percent used gigs primarily as a way to sell items they no longer needed. Even among the 10 percent of adults who were regular gig workers, just 22 percent earned at least half of their income in the past year from gig work. Nevertheless, supplemental income from gigs could help some people to get by financially.
18. The share of adults who worked in the last month in the SHED differs from the employment rate computed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in terms of its reference period (month versus week). The percentage working in the last month could also differ from the employment rate published by the BLS because the BLS asks about employment using slightly different wording and because the BLS interviews respondents in person and via phone, as opposed to online. Return to text
19. A similar 35 percent of non-workers who said they wanted work have applied for a job in the 12 months since November 2018. Return to text
20. The list of gig activities and analysis of their relationship to reported employment was similar to Anat Bracha and Mary Burke, "Informal Work in the United States: Evidence from Survey Responses," Current Policy Perspectives (Boston: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 2014). For the further development of the gig questions now used in the SHED, see Barbara Robles and Marysol McGee, "Exploring Online and Offline Informal Work: Findings from the Enterprising and Informal Work Activities (EIWA) Survey," Finance and Economics Discussion series 2016-089 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, October 2016). Return to text
21. In the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2016, it was observed that 56 percent of adults performing informal gig work felt that this income was somewhat or very important for offsetting the negative effects of reduced hours or wages in a formal job. Return to text