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.
To the more than 15 million people who are still out of work, those with temporary jobs are lucky. With concerns mounting that the long-term unemployed are becoming increasingly unemployable, those in temporary jobs are at least maintaining ties to the working world.
The competition for them can often be as fierce as for permanent openings, and there are still far too few of them to go around. Indeed, the relative strength in temporary hiring has done little to dent the stubbornly high unemployment rate, which rose to 9.8 percent in November.
“With business confidence, particularly in the small business sector, extremely low,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief United States economist at the High Frequency Economics research firm, “it’s not surprising that permanent hiring is lagging behind.”
The landscape two or three years from now might look quite different, of course. Many economists and executives at temporary agencies say there are signs that more robust permanent hiring is coming in the new year. Business confidence is up, and temporary agencies report that the percentage of interim workers who have been offered full-time jobs is also up from last year.
Nevertheless, there are signs that this time around, the economy could be moving toward a higher reliance on temporary workers over the long term.
Flexibility is another factor. Corporate executives, stung by the depth of the recent downturn, are looking to make it easier to hire and fire workers. And with the cost of health and retirement benefits running high, many companies are looking to reduce that burden. In some cases, companies wrongly classify regular employees as temporary or contract workers in order to save on benefit costs and taxes.
Mr. Rodeo, the Sacramento accounting manager, said he made anywhere from 10 to 50 percent less while working in temporary jobs than he did at the produce company. He has also been without health insurance all year. None of the interim employers or temporary agencies have contributed to a 401(k) plan, nor has he been able to save much on his own.
“That’s the scariest part,” said Mr. Rodeo.
He is confident he will eventually land a permanent post, but until then, he knows he is losing ground in planning for retirement. “Of course, for my generation, you can’t plan on Social Security,” he said. “Most likely, I will have to work longer.”
Others are starting to face the prospect that they could move among temporary assignments for the rest of their careers.
Jose Marin, 50, known as J. D., lost his technology job in Miami in February and moved to North Carolina to live with his sister. After months of looking for a permanent job, he signed on with Modis, a unit of Adecco, and in August began a temporary assignment for a financial services company in Cary, a town west of Raleigh.
While grateful for the job, he longs for a permanent position. “I’m still old-fashioned and I still want to work for a company where I make a difference and I’m going to be there to retire,” said Mr. Marin. “I know that’s wishful thinking.”
Yes, it's wishful thinking, Mr. Marin. Because in the eyes of corporate America, you don't make a difference. One worker is exactly the same as another -- easily replaced, easily jettisoned.
Only the executives are valued.
And the deliberate elimination of the middle class continues apace.