New figures show predicament of working poor

Close to 500,000 part-time workers in Australia want full-time employment but cannot find it, according to new figures.

The Bureau of Statistics has found more than one in four workers between the ages of 15 and 24 are looking for more hours.

The situation for women who are looking to increase their hours has also become worse.

The Bureau of Statistics figures relate to people who are underemployed - someone working part-time, doing less than 35 hours a week, who wants to work more.

Will Sutherland, a 23-year-old retail worker, is one of Australia's underemployed.

He says he wants more shifts but cannot get them.

"For the last month, almost nothing at all, actually.

I get called in really, really rarely," he said.

He says he a lot of spare time because of his lack of work hours, but he has no money to do anything.

"Most of the stuff that you want to do when you're not working costs money anyway," he said.

"So all the free time, you end up spending more because you're not working, so sometimes it can get really bad like that." Mr Sutherland says his friends are in a similar predicament.

"I have very few friends who are working jobs who feel like they're being overworked," he said.

"Most of them would like to be working more, especially during the holiday break." Close to the poverty line Mr Sutherland and people in a similar situation are known as the working poor; they live close to the poverty line despite having at least some work.

Bureau of Statistics spokeswoman Cassandra Gligora says there a couple of common reasons for the lack of available working hours.

"The most commonly reported reason underemployed workers gave for not finding work with more hours was that there were no vacancies in their line of work.

This is most common for both men and women," she said.

"The next most commonly reported reason for men was no vacancies at all, whereas for women it was too many applicants for available jobs." After the global financial crisis hit in 2008, the number of people who wanted full-time work but could not find it shot up.

From then on, it has remained fairly stable despite signs of a recovering domestic economy.

John Buchanan, the director of the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney, says Australia has a low unemployment rate by world standards.

"But there's a sleeper in the Australian labour market and that's the large number of part-time workers who want to work more hours," he said.

"They're called the underemployed.

That's a big chunk of the workforce, currently about 8 per cent." Gender divide There is also a gender divide in the underemployment figures.

There are more women who are looking for full-time work than men, and the number of women looking for work has been growing every year since the global financial crisis.

"Quality jobs for women are a lot harder to find when they're trying to balance work and family responsibilities there aren't that many options," Mr Buchanan said.

"One of the few places where they can get decent hours of work is in the public sector, and with the current fashion for retrenchment and austerity in the public sector, that means opportunities for decent full-time work for women are drying up." Mr Buchanan says different policies could improve the situation for the underemployed.

"The economy is doing well by comparison internationally, but that said, it doesn't mean we're living in the best of all possible worlds," he said.

"Whilst we could be worst off compared to the rest of the world, we could also be a lot better off if we ran our policies differently."

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