More Employers Are Relying on Part-Time, Contract Workers

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The increasing trend to fill jobs with part-time and contract workers worries economists and labor activists.

What do food service, litigation, manufacturing and illustration have in common? They all employ a rising number of part-time or contract employees.

Since the Great Recession, there is a growing trend across many industries in the U.S. to fill open positions with contract employees. According to NBC News, contract workers can reduce costs and provide a flexible labor source for employers.

There are a lot of perverse incentives for employers to use temps,” said Erin Hatton, an assistant professor of sociology at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and author of “The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America.” For one thing, it’s cheaper. Using temporary labor lets companies avoid the cost of providing benefits like health insurance, workers’ comp, paid sick leave and the like.”

That’s what worries many economists and labor leaders. Contract workers don’t have job protections or security. Because of that, they typically don’t spend as much, contributing less to the economy than permanent, full-time workers, according to The Associated Press.

“Workers increasingly serve businesses that do not officially ‘employ’ the worker – a distinction that hampers organizing, erodes labor standards and dilutes accountability,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project, which advocates on behalf of low-wage workers.

In the 1980s, contract workers made up just 0.5 percent of jobs in the U.S., a number that’s increased to 2.3 percent in recent years. And economists predict that number to continue to grow. The AP said:

Part-time and contract jobs in the past tended to rise during recessions and recede during recoveries. But maybe no longer: Part-time workers have accounted for more than 10 percent of U.S. job growth in the years since the recession officially ended in June 2009. Meanwhile, union membership has been sliding steadily since the mid-1980s.

A lot of contract jobs are in manufacturing, but the trend has expanded into other types of work. In fact, an attorney struggling to find full-time work recently posted a question on Lawcrossing.com, asking if temporary, contract work was the new norm for litigation. Evan Anderson, managing director of BCG Attorney Search, said:

Contract attorneys can provide low-cost legal services to law firms and in-house practices, offering a win-win scenario for both employer and attorney who are seeking temporary solutions for complementary needs. Contract agencies have been around for years but it has been interesting to note the number of law firms who have begun hiring contact attorneys directly.

Many business leaders embrace the idea of using contract workers, according to the AP.

“Some people don’t want to be a full-time employee. They want contract work,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Still, Josten recognizes that some of them “are hoping the contract work will ultimately lead them into a full-time position.”

What do you think about temporary contract workers becoming a permanent fixture in the U.S.? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

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