Temp workers play larger role in economy

A woman looks out from her office

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: So the Fed chief is still waiting for more jobs to appear. But there is one area where people are finding work -- temporary work. Manpower Inc. just posted better-than-expected earnings. The company's CEO reports temp-hiring is actually strong right now.

A lot of those "temps" could be hired permanently. But so far in this recovery, employers have been hesitant to do that. So is 'temping' the new 'working'? Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman explores that question.


Mitchell Hartman: I got to hear how great temping can be for my career before I got Kim Guard on the line. She runs Express Employment Professionals near Portland. She started getting very busy with orders for temporary workers more than a year ago.

Kim Guard: A lot of temp hiring. Not a lot of perm placements, not a lot of temp-to-hire.

In fact, six in 10 of the new jobs added in the recovery have been temps. Guard says in the past month, as the economy's improved, she's seen a shift: Temp positions turning into real true-to-life jobs, with a regular paycheck and benefits.

Guard: In January, we probably had over a hundred people get hired on permanently from the jobs they were doing for us in 2010.

But so far, most of the new temp jobs nationwide have stayed temp. Companies may be keeping more of these positions on the books to stay lean and flexible.

But economist Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution doesn't think it's permanent.

Gary Burtless: Somewhere between about 2 and 4 percent of all of the workers in the United States have these kinds of contingent arrangements. It doesn't seem as though it's getting to be a bigger part of the labor force.

Burtless still expects most of today's temps to get hired on as staff at some point. But he says businesses are still waiting for a sign.

Burtless: If they're not confident that a recent uptick in demand is going to be sustained, they don't add to their permanent workforce.

Most economists are confident that uptick will come. In this long, slow recovery, it's just taking a while.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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