One sector of the labor market is booming but there isn’t much cause for celebration.
The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported that the number of “temps” in the United States has jumped more than 50% since the recession “officially” ended four years ago to nearly 2.7 million — the largest number since 1990.
Temps are temporary workers who typically receive low pay, few (if any) benefits and scant job security. Needless to say, temps are seldom in a position to demand decent working conditions and, of course, don’t qualify for unemployment compensation when they are dumped by the employer.
The number of Americans in the tenuous temp workforce rises to almost 17 million when you factor in freelancers, contract workers and consultants. That’s about 12 percent of the labor force.
Careerbuilder, the internet jobs web site, reports there are 17 job areas where temp work is growing fastest, including team assemblers, office clerks, home health aides, and maintenance and repair workers.
Somewhat surprisingly, the CareerBuilder list includes some sectors that rarely used temps in the past, including computer programs, accountants and auditors, registered nurses, electricians and business operations specialists.
An Associated Press survey of 37 economists in May found that three-quarters thought the increased use of temps and contract workers represented a longstanding trend.
Last year, this blog reported on a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that found fewer than a quarter of American workers have a “good job” today compared to the past, largely because of policy decisions that have undercut labor.
According to the CEPR study, Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone, a good job is defined as one that pays at least $37,000 per year, has employer-provided health insurance and an employer-sponsored retirement plan.
The CETR blamed the decline in good jobs on policy decisions, rooted in politics, that have resulted in a drastic loss of workers’ bargaining power and the restructuring of the labor market since the end of the 1970s.
Readers are encouraged to visit ProPublica, a web site featuring journalism in the public interest, to read more about the treatment of temps in American workforce.