Analyst Says Temps Could Be 50% Of The Workforce

The world is suddenly waking up to the discovery that employers are bringing on temp and contract workers at a pace that will soon surpass the peak numbers of 2006.

Subscribers to The Fordyce Letter first read about the surge in temp workers in the May issue. Following the release of the June employment numbers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported, “There are now 2.534 million contract and temp workers in the U.S., a number just a few months shy of exceeding the all time high of 2.657 million reached in August 2006.”

Now, U.S. News says “Temp Workers Make Huge Comeback.” The article points out that the staffing industry has regained almost all the jobs lost in the recession, while other employers have added just over half the ones they shed. It’s not simply a sign of cautious employers bringing in extra help while waiting to see what the economy will do, but evidence of a trend.

Says the article, “In 1983, temporary workers made up just over half a percent of all employment. Now, that figure stands at nearly 2.3 percent—a remarkable change, despite the small numbers.”

“It’s a structural transformation,” maintains Arne Kalleberg, a professor of sociology at University of North Carolina who studies the labor force.

Meanwhile, Dana Shaw, former senior vice president for Staffing Industry Analysts, says, “Currently, the average mix of contingents in the Fortune 100 is 20-30 percent of the workforce, but it will evolve to 50 percent.” That evolution, she says, will be complete in barely eight years.

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Shaw is quoted in an article by Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. In  “The Contingent Workforce and Public Decision Making,”  Fisher details what he sees as the implications of having a workforce that could be as much as 40% even 50% contract and temp. Some of these impacts are transitory, as older workers without modern business skills are forced into underemployment and become what he calls “a lost generation of workers.”

The longer term changes wrought by the rise of freelance, says Fisher, has several positives.

The rise of a large, contingent workforce also has a more optimistic side to it, however, since it reflects the emergence of what some have called the ‘next economy’, fueled by the digital revolution. In this next economy, workers will have much more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where they work, and they will have, over the
course of their careers, many professional engagements and maybe even several different careers altogether rather than the long-term, relatively permanent employment of the old economy.

Fisher’s view is that government needs to respond now to the changes in the way we work, rethinking everything from commuting patterns and the consequent impact on highways and public transportation, to the tax incentives communities provide employers.

It may become more important, for example, to provide wide-bandwidth wireless service, flexible live-work housing, and walkable communities with plenty of gathering places nearby than to offer the traditional economic incentives of tax breaks, financial incentives, and minimal regulation. What worked in the old economy can completely backfire in the new one.

Next week, the Labor Department will release the August employment numbers. Analysts have yet to make public their monthly predictions about payroll changes, however there isn’t much reason to expect any significant swings either up or down.The report, though, will detail how the staffing industry job counts changed. The expectation is that the numbers will be up.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


3 Comments on “Analyst Says Temps Could Be 50% Of The Workforce

  1. I’ve done a lot of temping over the past four years. While it isn’t quite as good as permanent employment (but what really is permanent these days?) in terms of salary and benefits, it’s a whole lot better than being out of work, squeaking by on unemployment insurance, or some of the low-wage burger flipping jobs I’ve seen others resort to.

    Someday I want a permanent job again. But employers seem nervous about hiring until they know there is enough work and revenue to keep a new hire on the payroll, so they settle for temps. It’s a compromise for both sides, but (as my grandfather used to say) “better than a kick in the head.” I’ll keep temping until I find an employer I like that has the confidence–in me and in their future–to hire me.

    That said, I can’t see how a rise in temporary workers from 0.5% to 2.3% in 20 years means we’ll see a jump to 50% any time soon.

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