More part-time workers finding full-time jobs

WASHINGTON -- More Americans are moving from part-time to full-time jobs, adding to evidence a strengthening labor market will bolster household confidence and spending.

The number of people putting in a full week rose to 113.8 million in December, the most since February 2009, the Labor Department’s monthly employment report showed last week. At the same time, 8.1 million worked fewer hours because they couldn’t find a full-time job, the least since January 2009.

While the jobless rate fell 0.5 percentage point over the past three months, going from 9 percent to 8.5 percent, the so-called underemployment rate, which includes part-time employees, dropped by 1.2 percentage points to reach 15.2 percent. The gain in hours and earnings resulting from a full day’s work will probably help sustain consumers.

“By moving into more permanent positions, you get a more productive workforce,” said Michael Gapen, a senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York. “It makes labor more valuable and that means moderate wage growth, even with the unemployment rate at 8.5 percent. That translates into better consumption momentum entering this year.”

Payrolls increased by 200,000 workers in December and the 8.5 percent jobless rate was the lowest since February 2009, last week’s Labor Department figures showed.