Forget about a secure future: Today’s jobs don’t even offer a secure present.
The era of one-company careers is largely gone, and now the latest shift in labor markets is piling on the anxiety for many who do manage to get hired. They’re likely to land in an arrangement that falls short of what jobs used to be like. Driving cars for Uber is the poster-child for this alternative work, but it extends across the spectrum, from contract graphic design to on-call lab technicians to factory hands hired through agencies.
How many new jobs fall into this category? All of them. Or at least, all the net new positions -- more than 9 million -- created in the U.S. since 2005, according to a study this year by Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger of Harvard and Princeton universities.
Put it down as another cause of this year’s electoral revolt, ammunition for the argument that something’s fundamentally wrong with the economy. Plenty of Americans like the flexibility in the new world of work, but many more are there involuntarily -- and finding their income is volatile and benefits hard to come by.
For more on the economic anxiety underlying U.S. elections, click here.
“This plays into growing insecurity and, in many cases, anger,” Katz said. “Particularly for middle- and low-wage workers -- the case where you had aspirations to a more permanent job with a high-wage employer, and increasingly those types of employers outsource them.”
The U.S. jobless rate, hovering around 5 percent, is near what economists call full employment. Other data help to square that fact with the grievances driving presidential campaigns by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Wage growth has been modest, labor participation is down and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen last week flagged an “unusually high” number of people working part-time because they can’t find anything longer-term.
Then there’s the nature of the openings created during seven years of recovery. Katz and Krueger’s study, updated in late April, looked at four groups: independent contractors, on-call workers, workers for temporary-help agencies, and those provided by contract companies. The government hasn’t surveyed this slice of the workforce since 2005, so the paper is a first look at the Great Recession’s impact. It found that workers in all “alternative” categories are paid less than their counterparts in traditional employment and are likely to work fewer hours.
Gabe Luchkowsky’s job at an auto-part assembly plant in Avon, Ohio, might once have fallen into the permanent category. The 35-year-old found the position last year via a temp agency, after being laid off from a full-time post at a community college. At $12 an hour, it was a relief at first, until the absence of basic guarantees sank in.
“Everyone feels more secure and stable with an actual employer,” Luchkowsky said. “When you’re a temp, there’s always rumors going around that you may be hired in or are getting a raise, or the union is going to come in. But nothing ever happens.”