Why 'temp' jobs may be new norm
Temporary jobs always surge after recessions, until companies gain confidence and create permanent jobs. Is this time different?
When Vanessa Marlin resigned from her job of 11 years as a logistics analyst at Xerox in 2009, she spent five months looking for work, sent out "at least 100 résumés," then embarked on a string of temp positions, including working as a buyer for a local firm and as a census taker.Skip to next paragraph
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"I was unemployed for months and took positions in which I made considerably less," says Ms. Marlin. "But I kept my résumé updated and continued sending out résumés everywhere."
A few months ago Marlin approached a Rochester, N.Y., staffing agency, Burns Personnel, which placed her in a temp-to-hire position as a commodity specialist for a critical substances company, where she's been for the past four months.
Temporary employment usually plays an important part in the jobs recovery after a recession, as temps are easier to hire and fire at a time when employers are skittish about the economy. After most recoveries, hiring returns to normal, but temp industry experts say this recovery could be different.
The severity of the recession, the protracted recuperation of the job market, and the cost implications of the new health-care law has some in the industry wondering if more temporary work is here to stay. What happens in 2011 may help predict whether employers will return to normal hiring patterns – or whether temp workers will become, well, permanent.
Any return to normal hiring certainly looks far more protracted this time.
"This recession is much, much longer," and it's much more difficult to forecast where we're going, says David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "That contributes to employers' reluctance to make direct-hire employment…. [Temp work] is definitely growing, a lot of recent employment growth has been in temp employment."
For such a tiny corner of the job market – less than 2 percent of total employment – the temporary-help sector has had a huge impact on America's labor recovery. Some 307,000 jobs, just over a quarter of all the private-sector positions added last year, were temporary positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That surge, typical of economic recoveries, is more pronounced this time.