Part time and seasonal work is on the rise in Hamilton, but tens of thousands of people wish they could work more hours or weeks, a new study shows.

According to the Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC) of Hamilton's social landscape bulletin, the number of people in full-time, full-year positions in Hamilton has increased by only 16 per cent since 1976, while part-time, part-year or seasonal work has increased by 38 per cent. The Hamilton Census Metropolitan Area (which includes Burlington and Grimsby) has seen its population shoot up 53 per cent in that same time period.

"The decline in full-time work is especially evident among males in Hamilton, with only 46 per cent of males working full-time, full-year in 2010 compared to 77 per cent in 1978," the bulletin reads. (You can read the report in full here.)

 "Taking into account the proportion of involuntary part-time workers, there are about 68,000, part-time, part-year or seasonal workers in Hamilton who would prefer to work more hours or weeks."

Question the buzz, planner says

Sara Mayo, social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, says there is a buzz around the strength of the city's economy right now — but cautions people to look closer at where the growth is coming from.

"Is local economic growth helping all citizens, or are the benefits limited to certain segments of our community?" she asked.

The SPRC says the only period of sustained growth in Hamilton's full-time workforce in the last 30 years or so was in the booming economic period in the late 1980s.

"But the 1990s recession and the subsequent de-industrialization of Hamilton's economy reduced the number of full-time, full-year jobs for over a decade," the report reads.

The SPRC attributes at least some of the growth of "non-standard work" to employers who limit their permanent full-time workforce because they can often pay lower benefits to contract and part-time workers.

"This 'flexible' workforce is also harder to unionize, which limits demands for higher wages and better working conditions," the report reads.

Finding the upside

Disproportionate levels of part-time work aside, there are some pluses for the region to be garnered from the report, too. Almost three quarters of the Hamilton CMA's working age population is employed, the report reads, which is a higher proportion than just before the last recession and higher than the average for the province.

The working age employment rate in the Hamilton CMA is holding its own compared to the province as a whole and other Southern Ontario CMA's, the SPRC says. According to the report, Hamilton's employment rate recovered faster in the most recent recession compared to the recession in the 1990s.

"Hamilton's economic resilience means this is a great time to implement other policies to further strengthen the economy," Mayo said. "Policies like investments in childcare, attracting more skilled immigrants and making Hamilton a living wage community would help improve quality of life for many Hamiltonians."

She says a key economic driver for Hamilton moving forward is the city's affordability — especially contrasted with Toronto.

"But if we lose that edge and prices here go up too much, the economy in Hamilton will stall," she said. "It can happen very quickly."