Do America's Temp Workers Deserve More? / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Temp workers in the American economy in 2012, why companies hire temps, and how temp workers feel about their situation

Temporary employment in America is a fairly new phenomenon, outside of seasonal and agricultural work. In 1956, there were only about 20,000 temporary workers in the U.S. However, since June 2009, the temp sector has been the fastest-growing sector in the U.S. labor market.

The fact that employers are skittish about adding permanent jobs with benefits shows that the economic recovery is still sluggish as of mid-2012. Additionally, companies appear to be slowly drifting away from the permanent workforce and toward having a workforce at any given time that's 80 to 90% permanent,with the other 10 to 20% accounted for by temporary workers.

Statistics on Temp Workers in the U.S.

The following table offers some facts and figures on temporary workers and the American employment landscape in 2012.

2Percentage of Americans working as temps as of October 2011
6Percent gain in U.S. temp and contractor employment in first quarter 2012 compared to first quarter 2011
9Number of consecutive quarters of year-over-year gains in temporary jobs since June 2009
9.8Percentage increase in average hourly wage for temps in the first quarter of 2012 compared to first quarter 2011
10Average number of dollars per hour on top of hourly wages paid by employers for benefits to permanent workers' benefits
10-20Percent of total workforce employers are starting to keep as temps to keep costs down
41Percent of temporary jobs requiring computer and / or math skills
58Percent of employers planning to hire more temporary, part-time, and contractors as of June 2012
91Percent of total non-farm job growth since June 2009 accounted for by temp jobs
14,000Number of temp jobs in professional and business services added in July 2012
20,000Total estimated number of temporary employees in the U.S. in 1956
200,000Total estimated number of temporary employees in the U.S. in 1975
557,000Number of temp jobs added in the U.S. since June 2009
1,000,000Total estimated number of temporary employees in the U.S. in 1990
2,700,000Total estimated number of temporary employees in the U.S. in 2000
2,780,000Average number of temp and contract workers employed on any given day in the first quarter of 2012 in the U.S.
9,800,000Number of permanent full-time jobs lost since 2009 in the U.S.
25,000,000,000Total dollars paid to temps and contract workers in the first quarter of 2012


What Businesses Gain from Temp Workers

It's no mystery why businesses turn to temporary workers, particularly as they try to rebuild after a long recession. A good temp firm does all the legwork, finding and screening qualified workers, while the company hiring the temps doesn't have to worry about paying for fringe benefits like health insurance, vacation, and sick leave. Businesses also like the "try before you buy" aspect of hiring temps.

Susan Wheeler, operations manager at Mead Indoor Enviro Tech in Marietta, Georgia, told The Marietta Daily Journal, "It is an opportunity for us to try someone out to see if they are a good fit for our company before hiring them on a permanent basis. Our last temp-to-permanent position has been with us for almost two years. We currently have another temporary person who will be moving into a permanent position in the near future."

Employers can also try out a new position on a temporary basis to see if there's enough work to eventually make it permanent. For example, if a company is beefing up its marketing and isn't quite sure there is enough work for a permanent graphic designer, they can hire a temp to get a better feel for how big the need really is. With a larger number of white collar professionals working as temps these days, hiring an engineer, designer, or copywriter as a temp is becoming mainstream.

Temporary workers also give companies options when they need to cover a long absence, and when they need to hire extra seasonal workers without the costs of making a permanent hire. When an employee is out indefinitely, due to parental leave or military duty, hiring a temp is a way to fill a position for however long is needed.

What Temp Workers Get from Their Assignments

Temping works great for those in two-income households with partners who are able to carry health insurance, and it can be good for stay-home parents who want to earn some extra income while their children are in school. But for many temp workers in America today, temping is much more than a sideline: it's a way to keep food on the table.

The fact is, the median wage for a temporary warehouse worker is around $9 per hour with no benefits. The equivalent permanent employee would make around $12.50 per hour and may have benefits. Turnover with temps is high, since they are the first to be let go during a downturn. Temp work also tends to prevent establishing relationships with management and with other workers that could help lead to a permanent position.

Another problem temps have is the uncertainty of their schedule. When you don't know whether or where you'll be working on a given day, it's difficult to arrange to attend parent teacher conferences, doctor appointments, and the like. Temporary workers hoping for a permanent employment often compare the experience to being in a job interview every workday.

In St. Louis, temp worker Robin Barnard, 51, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "We're on the bubble all the time, and if anything goes wrong with the business we're the first to go." In the past 19 months, Barnard has temped at four different nonprofit organizations and businesses.

Legislation protecting temporary workers is very slowly starting to gain some traction, with the state of Massachusetts recently implementing the Temporary Workers' Right to Know Law. This law requires staffing agencies to give employees notice about basics like hourly wages and workers' compensation carriers before they go to a temp job. But for the most part, temps are out of luck when it comes to any sort of benefits and are left hanging on until they can land a permanent job.

Said Robin Barnard, "I always think they're going to hire me, that I'm one of them. Then the cutbacks come and I'm the first to go. When I start to lose my confidence I need to tell myself, 'It's the economy, stupid.'"

Photo credit: Dan DeLuca

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