December 07, 2016

The conventional full-time job is disappearing

Recent survey research conducted by Lawrence Katz of Harvard and Alan Krueger at Princeton University shows that from 2005 to 2015, the proportion of American workers engaged in “alternative work” jumped from 10.7% to 15.8%.

Alternative work is characterized by being temporary or unsteady, such as work as an independent contractor or through a temporary help agency. Almost all jobs created in the last decade are in the alternative work category. Over 60% was due to the rise of independent contractors, freelancers, and contract company workers.

Katz and Krueger found that each of the common types of alternative work increased from 2005 to 2015. The largest changes were in the number of independent contractors and workers provided by contract firms, such as janitors that work full-time at a particular office, but are paid by a firm which provides janitorial services.

The decline of conventional full-time work has impacted every demographic. Whether this is bad or good depends on the type of work jobseekers are looking for. “Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,” says Krueger. “While many of those who value flexibility and have a spouse with a steady job have probably gained.”

Women in particular experience an unusually large increase in the share of alternative work. In 2005, they were 3 percentage points less likely than men to engage in alternative work, but 2 percentage points more likely in 2015. This is in large part because the sectors which saw the largest move towards alternative work arrangements, like education and medicine, have a high proportion of women.

For those looking for a steady administrative office job, the outlook is bleak. Temporary agency work tends to pay less and is short-term, with workers unemployed between assignments. Susan N. Houseman has looked into the impact of temporary agency work on regular employment for IZA World of Labor. The research finds little evidence that temporary agencies help workers gain regular employment; they may even impede it.

Related articles:
Temporary agency work, by Susan N. Houseman
Employment protection, by Stefano Scarpetta

See also our articles on Innovation and the future of work