The New American Workforce

It appears that in the wake of ongoing—and lengthy—unemployment, the U.S. is creating a new class of worker—the “Permanent Temporary Worker.” Of course there has always been this classification of worker, but it now appears to be going mainstream and currently accounts for 26% of all U.S. workers.

With the U.S. economy in disarray, and government legislation in process that will heavily impact employers, companies simply are not hiring full-time employees. There is such a wealth of talent available on an “as-needed” basis there is no real reason why companies should hire full-time employees. A company can enjoy the flexibility of using temporary employees—without all the hassle and expense of benefits.

But, what about the employees? How is this current trend going to affect them? Well, here is a part of the reality:

  • No paid health insurance
  • No sick days
  • No paid vacation
  • No company-funded retirement plan
  • Usually no premium for overtime pay
  • Without any job security, benefits, or social ties to the rest of the workforce, stress levels are increased and depression sets in, which results in permanent temps being twice as likely to report symptoms related to mental illness than their counterparts who are permanent employees.

With 26% of today’s U.S workforce falling into the permanent temp category, what does the future hold—for either the employer, or employee? When the new healthcare reform becomes law, and every person is required to buy health insurance, that will reduce the permanent temps disposable income. When small business owners are required to provide health insurance for their employees, they will likely reduce their workforce in favor of permanent temps, thus increasing the role of permanent temps even further.

A recent Princeton University study predicted that 22% to 29% of all U.S. jobs would be offshored within two decades. It may not take that long—IBM had 71% of its workforce outside the U.S. at the end of 2008, and in 2009 reduced it’s U.S. workforce by 10,000 (8%). It seems so many companies are offshoring today that any “permanent” jobs left in the U.S. may only be in the service sectors—auto, food, health, and yards.

If the U.S. should ever get to this point, the permanent temporary worker may really have the best deal of all, and that would be a very sad situation.

5 thoughts on “The New American Workforce”

  1. Bob – Tom tweeted today about the era of temping/brand you he and Dan Pink championed. My question was essentially how this will bode for workers for the very same reasons you have listed above. Who benefits most? Aside from experience, who gets paid? Perhaps the answer is who has the bulk of debt and/or responsibility.

    The environment seems ripe for abuses of all kind. The brand you notion does not seem likely for those who have held jobs and health insurance from their employers for so many years of their careers and are nearing retirement age. But it’s not just retirees. I read that young graduates are having a very difficult time finding jobs.

    I also wonder about temps and the middle class. Will these ever become middle class? Are we essentially talking here about a two tier society? It sure does look that way to me. Bob Herbert wrote a column, “An Uneasy Feeling” for the New York Times that is definitely worth a read. It’s very sobering indeed. He writes about the possibility of a permanent decline of America.
    .-= Judith Ellis´s last blog ..Being Gleaners =-.

    1. Judith – Thank you for your comment. I read Bob Herbert’s article, as well as the WP article Herbert referenced, and frankly, I have to share in Herbert’s “sinking feeling.” With one in four children on food stamps, and six million Americans living on food stamps as their only income—how could one not have a sinking feeling.

      The Post article said the past decade was the worst in modern times. There was no (that’s zero) net job creation between December 1999 and now, and middle-class families earned less in 2008 (inflation adjusted) than they did in 1999.

      America is in deep, deep, trouble and our politicians have their heads in the sand. They struggle mightily to pass a health-insurance reform law that none of the 31 million new people being forcibly covered will be able to pay for. Or, they spend time wringing their hands over the underwear bomber instead of addressing the important issues of bloated government bureaucracies that are more interested in protecting their turf than they are the American people.

      Yes, Judith, I believe we are talking about a two-tier society and the demise of the middle-class. As you said, “It’s very sobering indeed.”

  2. Bob,

    I just read your article and totally agree. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it seems like our government is running us into the ground for some other sinister purpose. I can’t believe with all of the talent this country has at it’s disposal, our government can possibly be filled with such stupid, self serving, individuals and we continue to elect them. Does anybody besides me think this spending spree our President is on “really” serves the American people?? It only contributes to the two tier social system you and Edith were talking about in your comments section. Or perhaps we are headed to a one tier, purely socialist society?? Looking at the two measures on the Oregon ballot #66 and #67 this November, the legislature here is clearly targeting small businesses and the rich to solve its budget problems instead of looking inward at their own spending irresponsibility. They are following our Federal governments tax and spend policy even if it means ultimate destruction of the society at large. When will the madness end?

    1. Steve – Thank you for your comment. As I have read, and also repeated on my blog, if the government took 100% of all the money made by “rich” people, it would hardly make a dent in the national debt—there just is not that much total money there. Small business then is the next source of money, and as I posted a while ago, a recent survey of small businesses reported that 46% of small businesses were NOT profitable. I hope government does not kill the means that has kept America strong in the past.

      “When will the madness end?” As long as we continue to elect government politicians who are self-serving egoists—it never will.

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