From the December 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Good news for entrepreneurs who need help but aren't ready to hire full-time employees: The number of people working part time is going up. From January to July 2004, the ranks of part-time workers grew from 24.3 million to 25.5 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And from June to July 2004, there was an increase in workers who were working part-time because they wanted to, not because they couldn't find full-time work, says BLS economist Marisa DiNatale. "The number of people working part time for economic reasons was actually down for [July 2004]," she says.

John Challenger, CEO of Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, notes that 1.7 million part-timers hold two or more part-time jobs, up from 1.6 million a year ago. Such workers may be harder to convert to full-timers, since they like the diversity of different jobs. That's one benefit of hiring part-timers. "Look at part-timers as an opportunity to conduct an extended interview, later fighting to keep the top performers," he says.

Increased preference for part-time work isn't short-term, says Don Schackne, president of consulting firm Personnel Management & Associates in Delaware, Ohio. He believes it's due to the appeal that a reduced schedule has for seniors and baby boomers at or near retirement. Parents who have interrupted careers to care for their kids but still want to work may also explain the boom.

Employers should eagerly accept these part-time applicants. A big reason is that employer-paid health insurance and other benefits-which few part-timers get-add costs equal to more than 50 percent of the average employee's gross earnings. Says Schackne, "A part-time employer can get by with a low-cost factor and still find somebody reliable."