America now has a record 2.7 million temp workers

They have accounted for one-fifth of job growth since mid-2009 as big companies like Wal-Mart and BMW rely on this low-cost labor.

By Aimee Picchi Jun 28, 2013 12:33PM
Temporary workers with the Staff Line agency line up on Aug. 3, 2007 (© Matthew Craig/AP)Back in 1971, an ad appeared for The Never-Never Girl, a temporary worker who was billed as a dream employee for corporations: She "never takes a vacation" and "never costs you for unemployment, taxes and Social Security payments."


It turns out that the ad, from Kelly Services (KELYA), foreshadowed one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. labor market: the temp worker. 


But what was once the purview of the chauvinistic Kelly Girl -- created when women were entering the labor market -- is now spreading across blue-collar industries, with temp jobs returning at a rate that's 10 times faster than private-sector employment, according to an excellent report on the trend by the nonprofit ProPublica. 


It has even led to "temp towns," or cities and neighborhoods where a significant number of residents are employed by temp agencies. Such places now include Greenville County, S.C., where 8.6% of workers are temps, and Kane Count, Ill., where 6.1% are temps. 


So what's so bad about being a temp? After all, these workers are getting paid at a time when millions are still seeking employment. 


While many temps are paid minimum wage, in effect they earn less because many must wait before receiving a temp assignment. Temps on average earn 25 cents less on every dollar earned by permanent employees, ProPublica noted. 


Because of their low earnings, temps often rely on food banks and government benefits such as taxpayer-funded health care to get by. Benefits are unheard of, as is opportunity for promotion. 


It's not a small segment of the labor market either. In May, a record 2.68 million workers filled the temp ranks, according to Labor Department statistics. That means roughly the same number of people are working as temps as there are in the airline, real estate and mining industries combined. 


"We're seeing just more and more industries using business models that attempt to change the employment relationship or obscure the employment relationship," Labor Department official Mary Beth Maxwell told ProPublica. "In the last 10 to 15 years, there's just a big shift to this for a lot more workers -- which makes them a lot more vulnerable."


Wal-Mart (WMT) is one employer reportedly increasing its reliance on temp workers. A recent Reuters survey of 52 Wal-Mart stores found that 27 were hiring temps.


The trend is likely to accelerate, given Obamacare's pending roll-out in 2014. The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide coverage for full-time employees, which is spurring some companies to cut hours or rely on temps. 


Temp agencies defend their business. Randall Hatcher of MAU Workforce Solutions, which provides temps to BMW, told ProPublica: "I think our industry has been good for North America as far as keeping people working."


Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 


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115Comments
Jun 28, 2013 1:37PM
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This trend goes way beyond unskilled minimum wage workers and includes highly educated workers in the high tech fields, lawyers, accountants, college lecturers, etc.  These folks have no job security, are only paid for the hours they work, no sick pay, no retirement benefits,  and what's even worse is they can't claim unemployment assistance when their stint ends.  This is all the while that businesses are raking in record profits and the executives are hauling in record pay and perks.  The classic is the CEO of HP made over $40 million the year he laid off over 35000 workers.  The middle class is losing ground and power rapidly. 
Jun 28, 2013 1:28PM
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A sure sign of the destruction of the American worker brought on by the battle between the extremist

 

Union Socialist vs Elitist who promote 2 class society (rich and poor)

 

I'm not saying all unions or people in unions are bad and I'm not saying every rich person is bad. I'm saying that the extremes that battle with money to crooked politicians have caused these problems.  

Jun 28, 2013 1:54PM
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Yes we really need to liberalize immigration, that way we can have a stable underclass willing to work for less, so the mega rich and corporations can hang on to more $.   This has been going on for years and  now Obamacare has cemented it into our economy.  New York state is now legislating paid sick leave for full time employees as well.  Business owners' solution to Obamacare and paid sick leave?  more temps.  Good job progressives, you have expanded your electorate, the working poor.  It sends profit straight to the bottom line for US corportations, then the taxpayers have to support the working poor.  The long term problem is of course, the middle class can't pay enough taxes to support the working poor, and the rich don't pay  enough taxes to support them because of our inequitable tax system.  If you fix the tax system, they will offshore their income anyway.  Good job Congress, (both sides of aisle), you have totally subverted our economy for the ultra rich.
Jun 28, 2013 2:26PM
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2.7 Million temporary workers, eh?

Our solutions begin when a certain 535 are in danger of being considered "TEMPS".

Thats it in a nutshell.   Vote intelligently ~!



Jun 28, 2013 1:56PM
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Yep Big business at it again. Unions are destroyed and people are paid less with no benefits. Go figure.

 

Take it or starve I guess.........

Jun 28, 2013 3:13PM
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Immigration should not give illegal's  a free pass into this country it well ruin it for everyone. Wages are already at an all time low because they take all the construction jobs and other jobs that were once good paying jobs. Now their not. People need to flood Washington with emails and letters telling them to not do it. They need to send them back to their own countries where they came from and do it legally. If their can get away with breaking national security laws nobody should go to jail for crimes other than murder. and armed robbery. NO on is above the law except illegals
Jun 28, 2013 4:35PM
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From a democracy to a plutocracy, the country is now run by big business, big banks and wealthy individuals.  The middle class is disappearing and temp workers are the modern-day serfs.  Old Henry Ford made sure to pay his workers a living wage; he was smart enough to want his workers to have  money to buy his cars.  The nation's big industry has forgotten that lesson -- CEOs too busy padding their own pockets.
Jun 28, 2013 4:18PM
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I started my job as a temporary temp filling in for the long-term temp when she was on vacation for a week.  I made $13/hr.  I impressed the bosses so much that at the end of the month they fired her and took me on as the long-term temp making $15/hr.  After six months they decided to hire me from the temp agency, giving me $17/hr and ridiculous benefits. A year and a half later they gave me a 10% raise because I demanded it, as my responsibilities had expanded significantly since I had been hired.  I started as a temp and I made myself indispensable.

 

in the 2-1/2 years I've been here I've seen plenty of other temps come and go.  Either not competent or not interested in putting in the work to earn that full time job.  I feel sorry for them that they didn't recognize the opportunity when it was slapping them in the face.  Plenty of businesses use temp agencies to test-drive potential employees.  It gets your foot in the door.  Where you go from there is up to you.

Jun 28, 2013 3:17PM
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This was, unfortunately, not an unforeseen event.  As the cost of maintaining a full time employee continues to go up, the ratio of full time to part time/temp workers will continue to shift.  We have the unavoidable dichotomy of a population not willing to pay more for products made in the USA vs. overseas, so to compete, companies must keep cost of labor down.  It is the single largest controllable expense in most companies, consuming at least a third of all expenditures.  Cost of goods is fixed, not much you can do there.  Fixed costs and taxes are going back up, and not much you can do there.  Cost of labor is the only real flex point many companies still have to remain competitive.  We are already the laughing stock of the WTO because we have so many tariffs to make outside products more expensive and give American companies an edge, so we can't really go any further in that direction.  I am not saying that these actions by business are right or moral, but as long as we provide them with only one real lever to control expenses, this will continue to happen.  Unfortunately, businesses are not charities.  We can talk all day about what a business should do, but that is irrelevant.  They are in business to make the most money possible, no newsflash there.  We need to deal with what businesses can and will do.  And right now, cutting full time employees is what they can and are doing.  Quite legally I might add.
Jun 28, 2013 3:53PM
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Contracting is most of what IT work has become. American techs, even ones with degrees and multiple certifications are competing with H1B indentured servants from India and Pakistan that get paid a pittance, live here for the duration of the contract, and fly back to their native country when the visa term expires.

You bounce from contract to contract - no vacation, no health insurance, no sick leave. They sometimes look the other way on OT because 60 hour weeks can be a unfortunate necessity. Forget having a family - much less a life. Companies make out like bandits either way. Make a project, get your techs on the cheap, use them up, and throw them away.
Jun 28, 2013 3:21PM
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Why does it not surprise me that Walmart is in this article??  This company is everything America is not supposed to stand for.  GREED.  Walmart can easily afford to pay its workforce better and offer better benefits.  Ok, so you only make $1.2 trillion insteatd of the $2 trillion..  Where is the breaking point for Americans to say ENOUGH!??  Shop American products and services.
Jun 28, 2013 3:07PM
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People need to fight back by never buying any products from these companies who do this to people like Walmart and others they only do this to make more money at the expense of the workers while profits are at an all time high and poverty is also at an all time high when are people going to realize they have the power to fight back. Consumer power is something they all listen to. STOP BUYING THIER STUFF 
Jun 28, 2013 4:31PM
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Government POLICY does this...  nothing else...  ACA will institute the 30 hour work week...  

Socialism always fails, government cannot regulate prices and supply...  Only a free market can.

You cannot Tax and Print your way to prosperity, not can you Borrow and Spend your way out of debt, someone needs to tell that to the imbecile Obama...
Jun 28, 2013 4:58PM
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New employment
25 hours/week x 2 jobs = 50 hours with no overtime or benefits

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Kind of ironic/hilarious that the person who represents the American citizens that are FAR more likely to be replaced at their jobs by these amnestied illegal immigrants is the one insisting to those voters that these interlopers DESERVE those jobs (AKA THEIR jobs) AND a share of the far from enough entitlement money that those same voter/workers will need ............. AND that those people are too stupid to even notice the pork stick up their butts yet!

All of this comes at a time when the average baby boomer is retiring with far less than 50k of net worth and the poverty line has been raised to the level that EVERYONE living on S/S is now going to be collecting an Earned Income Credit (a return of cash after paying NO taxes) that will be added to the ever growing entitlement totals and the only way to get more is to raise taxes again, the real legacy of the "votes for sale" era of Obama!
Jun 28, 2013 5:21PM
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a lot of our politicians are going to be temps as soon as the next election comes around
Jun 28, 2013 5:03PM
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I worked for a 3M plant in northern CA for 23 years ( 1986 to 2009 ) Most of us had been there for between 15 & 25 years ( around 135 employees ).  By the late 90s, I noticed the only 'new' people coming in.....were 'temps'.   They would work there so long, we came to think of them as just....other regular full-time coworkers.   But just short of their 1 year mark, they would suddenly vanish.   They were just as skilled as the rest of us....and would often return a few months later to begin another 1 year-stint.    But I understood if they stayed beyond a year, they would be entitled to becoming a regular employee....and receiving all the benefits.    It used to bother me that they would be excluded from certain company events....( picnics, Christmas parties, etc. ), and so a lot of us ( who were single ) would bring them to these things as our 'guests'.   I think a big part of the problem....is that a lot of these big corporations, have......over the past couple of decades......improved their technology & streamlined the process.....and THIS is an unintended consequence.   When I started out in 1986, there were 3-4 people doing .....what I was doing by myself  ( with the new equipment ) only 10-15 years later.   We're being replaced by technology.    It's less likely to make mistakes, and doesn't require a paycheck, medical, dental, vacation, days off, etc.    Meanwhile....the planet's population has shot up to over 7 billion.    THIS is a worldwide problem.    Our plant was closed in 2009.   I've just kind of been living off of my own retirement savings.......which is messed-up.....because I'm only about to turn 58.   I used to have a nice FAT 401K.    I'm eligible to collect a 'pension', but I'm trying to delay that.....I'm NOT pleased with the thought of going back to washing dishes or something.   I was pulling in $50,000 to just over $60,000 a year there.....( 50-60 hrs a week on the 12 hr graveyard shifts ).   I moved to Nevada in 2010, which has NO state income tax......and I got a much nicer apartment for less than I was paying in Calif.     Unfortunately, there's little to no work here.   it!......I'll start looking soon.   There are others in worse shape.   I've looked at this 'time off' as a much-needed sabbatical.....a chance to focus on my other 'projects' that I shuffled off to the side....all those years with the company.  I just hate to have to become a 'temp'....particularly after seeing what my co-workers had to put up with. 
Jun 28, 2013 3:34PM
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with all the mess the healthcare bill is causing for business and people  expect to see a lot more temp and part time workers.  businesses are already pushed hard with all the restrictions and taxes so they need to do this just to keep their doors open.  I think we need to fix the government and its overbearing restrictions and regulations. this will help everyone from the minimum wage earner to the top of the scale, well all except the greedy power hungry government
Jun 28, 2013 4:58PM
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So these are all those jobs Barry has been bragging about - the idiot in the White House has no clue about business - you would swear he never took an economics class but I'm sure his school records would prove otherwise - oh wait they aren't available. Regardless this will continue for another 3 1/2 years until the worst administration in the history of the US leaves office - the question is can we surrvive that long or are we right behind Egypt and on the brink of our own civil war - nice legacy for your kids Barry. 
Jun 28, 2013 3:54PM
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Employee status is a degradation regardless.  You're better off dealing with EVERYTHING labor related as either a contractor or temporary.

There is no security or certainty.  GET USED TO IT.

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