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‘The Uncertain Hour’ is back!

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The American economy is digging its way out of a more than 10 million-job hole.

As the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the jobs that come back won’t be the same. It’s an issue set to challenge — and divide — the Biden administration and Congress.

The problem is what we think of as a typical job where one person works for one employer for years, with health insurance, sick days, paid vacation and a retirement fund — has been disappearing. Companies are replacing them with outsourced, subcontracted, freelance, temporary or gig jobs that don’t come with benefits. Some don’t even pay minimum wage. 

This dynamic isn’t a product of this recession or the last one. Legal policy changes and explicit corporate strategy over the past 50 years have led to a steady shift in the kind of jobs companies offer — the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic just accelerated the trend.

Now you see it everywhere: Paralegals, janitors, delivery drivers, even minor-league baseball players. Some companies, and some workers, like things this way: corporate executives use words like “flexible” and “agile” — even “liquid” — to describe their new workforce, and some “nonemployees” enjoy good salaries and generous benefits from their third-party employers. But the arrangement also means companies have less responsibility to those workers, and some nonemployees have no recourse when they’re mistreated or find their paychecks shrinking as middlemen take a cut.

This season, “The Uncertain Hour” is looking at this thing we used to call employment: what happened to it, why it happened and what a workforce made up of “nonemployees” means for our future.

The new season starts Wednesday, Feb. 3. Listen to the trailer above, tell a friend and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

And for even more of “The Uncertain Hour,” subscribe to our newsletter! Each week we’ll bring you a note from host Krissy Clark and explain a term that’s come up in our reporting. This week it’s a deceptively simple one: “nonemployee.”

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