A new report from the UC Berkely Center for Labor Research and Education, Poverty and the Rise of Temporary and Contingent Work, studies the correlations between temporary workers and their need to be on government assistance.
Though Newt Gingrich attempted to paint Barack Obama as the “food stamp President,” the big business policies promoted by members of Gingrich’s party are actually a bigger factor in the surge of “entitlements” than any policy of Obama’s. Jobs that once paid middle class wages are now being performed by temporary or subcontracted workers who do not receive the same protections and benefits as full-time employees. The study looks into data from California which researchers suggest closely mirrors the national scene:
In California, almost one-quarter of a million people worked in the temporary help services industry in 2010; another 37,000 people worked for employee leasing firms totaling 282,000 workers in these two industries. This accounted for approximately 2.0 percent of all non-farm employment in California in 2010, approximately the same ratio as for the U.S. as whole. Employment services workers span a wide range of occupations, from professional white collar occupations like nursing, accounting, and computer programming, to blue collar work in transportation and material moving, housekeeping and landscaping, and manufacturing.
Many temps feel lucky to have a job at all, despite receiving lower wages, fewer benefits, and lacking job security. This is exactly the situation that employers and management thrive off of. A lack of assurance and the stress that comes from zero stability have negative affects on the health of workers but a positive impact on the bottom line. The problem spans multiple professions, but those working as temps in blue collar professions are hit especially hard by this growing trend, according to the study:
Temporary workers are not compensated for their willingness to accept less reliable work; instead they tend to face lower wages than their non-temp counterparts. Median hourly wages were $13.72 for temps and $19.13 for non-temps in California in 2008-2010. Controlling for the type of occupation as well as personal characteristics of workers such as age, education, race, sex, and English proficiency, temps make about 18 percent less per hour than their non-temp counterparts. The wage differential is even larger for blue-collar workers.
On top of health issues, the use of temporary workers creates policy problems. The erosion of wages has a chilling effect on those performing jobs similar to permanent employees and damages worker safety standards as temp workers are often viewed differently by governmental agencies. If our economy is ever to be fixed, this specific problem needs to be addressed through enforcement of current laws and by new, progressive policies. The report lays out two major policy problems brought on by the use of temporary workers.
Temporary and subcontracted arrangements erode wages. These lowered wages mean that contingent workers rely more on the state safety net. Temps in California were twice as likely as non-temps to live in poverty, receive food stamps, and be on Medicaid.
Temporary and subcontracted arrangements undermine existing worker protections first by allowing employers to avoid certain worker provisions, and second by making enforcement of the remaining protections difficult. The ability of some employers to avoid paying into the system of employer-provided worker benefits disadvantages both high-road employers who hire directly, and contingent workers who receive only limited worker protections. Even these more limited worker protections can be elusive for contingent workers who are particularly susceptible to employer retaliation.