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PART-TIME WORK BY NECESSITY

HACKENSACK, N.J. - Frustrated job hunters are increasingly, and reluctantly, turning to part-time work to make ends meet and improve their chances of getting a full-time job, say employment agencies and search firms.

They say that while job hunters in the past would shun part-time opportunities, preferring to focus on looking for full-time work, the grim economy has made part-time work more palatable.

Pete Weigang, branch manager for Manpower Inc., said now he frequently gets part-time work requests from people who wouldn't have touched it six months ago.

"The longer they are out of work, I think the realization comes to them that the positions that were out there six months ago aren't there," Weigang said. "Now, the criteria for what they are willing to do and their pay requirements have dropped."

Aside from economic reasons, job hunters work part time to make contacts and add to their skills, recruiters say. And there's often the hope the job will lead to a full-time position.

In some cases, workers whose hours have been cut look for a second, part-time job to make up for the lost hours.

Layne Johnson of Ridgewood, N.J., began consulting three days a week last August as an information manager for Rockefeller University of New York. He took the work after hunting unsuccessfully for nine months to replace the job he lost as global head of information management for Pfizer.

"I thought, 'I just have to keep myself professionally active,' " Johnson said.

Mike Petrula, 46, of Wayne, N.J., said he was willing to take part-time work almost as soon as he was laid off as a chemical manufacturer sales representative in March.

"I take whatever I can get to pay the bills," he said. But he added that a stint as a manager at a company that does high-speed medical document scanning also gave him experience outside his field.

Reluctant part-time workers are part of the underemployed sector, which has risen dramatically since the recession began, federal statistics show.

While the national unemployment rate is 9.7 percent, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics also publishes a "labor underutilization" rate that, along with unemployed workers, includes people working part time for economic reasons or people who have stopped looking for work.

That rate, on a national level, stood at 16.8 percent of the work force in August. It was 8.8 percent in December 2007, when the recession began.

Bureau figures show that the number of people involuntarily working part time has nearly doubled nationwide since the recession began, from 4.6 million to 9 million.

Three-quarters of those have had their hours cut due to a lack of work or business conditions, the figures show. Just under one-quarter are working part time because that's all the work they could get.

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