Monday, December 20, 2010

The permanence of temporary workers

Despite a surge this year in short-term hiring, many American businesses are still skittish about making those jobs permanent, raising concerns among workers and some labor experts that temporary employees will become a larger, more entrenched part of the work force.

This is bad news for the nation’s workers, who are already facing one of the bleakest labor markets in recent history. Temporary employees generally receive fewer benefits or none at all, and have virtually no job security. It is harder for them to save. And it is much more difficult for them to develop a career arc while hopping from boss to boss.

“We’re in a period where uncertainty seems to be going on forever,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “So this period of temporary employment seems to be going on forever.”

What worries me is that I have no idea what incentives employers have to actually return to fully employing their work force. With temporary workers, they get all the production -- but without the same levels of pay, and certainly without having to pay so much for benefits. Temp workers -- even if they should turn out to be permanent -- end up being an economic plus for corporations.

The downside of that, of course, is that the economy won't get moving again until people start wanting to consume again. If you're in a "temp" job, what will be your capacity -- or inclination -- to spend? This might be bad all the way around.

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