Is the US a nation of nontraditional workers? Not yet
Thursday, June 07, 2018
Do not believe the hype of a boom in gig jobs. Such nontraditional work arrangements reveal a pattern that has remained largely unchanged over the past 12 years, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey.
The survey, called Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements, found that 5.9 million Americans or "3.8 percent of workers...held contingent jobs" in May 2017 vs. 1.8 percent to 4.1 percent of the workforce in February 2005.
The BLS defines contingent workers as "persons who do not expect their jobs to last or who report that their jobs are temporary." BLS data did not include workers expecting their employment to end for reasons such as returning to school, e.g., summer lifeguarding.
The BLS also surveyed other workers in alternative work arrangements. There were there were 10.6 million independent contractors, or 6.9 percent of total employment, compared with 7.4 percent of workers in February 2005.
Independent contractors stayed the biggest of the four groups of alternative work arrangements: temporary help agency workers, on-call workers and workers that contract companies supply. There was no increase in employment arrangements through temporary agencies, on-call arrangements, or contracted firms.
"It should be pointed out that this measure does not completely capture the rise of what is referred to as 'fissured work,'" said Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute in a statement. "The contract firm workers in this survey must answer yes to the question 'Do you usually work at the customer’s worksite?' and much of the fissuring of the workplace we see involves offsite work."
In other words, the eye of the beholder counts at least in part for the BLS data.
"It’s important to remember that the BLS study is based on the perspective of the worker," said Tony Gregoire, director of research for the Americas at Staffing Industry Analysts in a statement.
"For instance, in the BLS study not all independent contractors are classified as contingent, because they may expect their job to last," Gregoire said. "For the same reason, once BLS releases results regarding 'gig' workers, some 'gig' workers may expect their 'gig' to last (they may expect to be an Uber driver five years now, even if the customers/passengers change). From the client’s perspective, independent contractors and 'gig' are typically contingent, and thus an estimate of contingent work from the client's perspective would be greater than that of the BLS study, which is based on the worker’s perspective."
Independent contractors tended to be older workers, according to the BLS survey. Further, as in previous surveys, independent contractors who are men outnumbered women, with two-thirds male to one-third female in May 2017.
"In May 2017," according to the BLS survey, "median (the point at which half are above and half below) weekly earnings were highest for contract company workers ($1,077). Earnings for independent contractors ($851) were roughly similar to those for workers in traditional arrangements ($884), while earnings for on-call workers ($797) and temporary help agency workers ($521) were lower.)"
A BLS report on the numbers of people laboring for "electronically mediated" services such as the ride-hailing firms Uber and Lyft is set for a September release.
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