Have you been a “permatemp?”

Temporary or freelance workers make up 30 percent of the American workforce. The jobs are often low-paying and don’t supply health insurance, but it’s probably better than being unemployed and some people appreciate the flexibility and independence (I live with a freelancer who relishes his lack of meetings and company memos.)

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the rise of the “permatemp” and what it means for our careers, companies, retirement, and economy.

Are you freelancing or working a temporary job? Was it by choice? And what are the benefits and drawbacks?

–Stephanie Curtis, social media host

  • Em

    I was previously a temp and it was a tough rut to get out of – if you move around to many different temp opportunities, I know first-hand that employers will pass over your resume. The stigma that comes with a temp position isn’t always wonderful, I hate when I hear people referring to a temp as “the temp.” It’s that title that just never escapes you – people forget you have a name! I do feel that many employers are taking advantage of temps, the same was as they do with interns. In a recession or hiring freeze, why not just bring on some temps or interns to do the work of an actual employee? But reward them much less, even after they long prove their worth, so the company saves money in the long run. Needless to say, I didn’t like the experience and I’m thankful I have a FT job. Once a temp always a temp – didn’t want that to happen.

  • Chuck

    I chose to become a freelance writer and editor 10 years ago; I’ve been temping off and on for the last 4 of those years. In my situation, I have loved my temp jobs as a source of steady income; as a writer/editor, I can’t always count of work coming my way. I am seeking full-time work, but if I can continue to work as a temp through my agency, I’ll be happy as can be. The biggest benefit is my taxes are removed for me, so I don’t have to try to set aside money for that. The biggest drawback is trying to find affordable health insurance; I’m looking forward to insurance exchanges through Obamacare.

  • Katie

    What stinks is that the Temp agencies are making TONS of money while the workers are making little to nothing. If we are lucky enough to get hired by the company on a permanent basis, the Temp Agency collects a finders fee and the worker often is not able to earn benefits for ANOTHER 90 days after “employment”.

    I hear people complain about Labor Unions between their Boss and the employee, but at least the Unions actually DO something to earn your dues. The Temp agencies are just Sharks.

  • Fran Lyon-Dugin

    The issues are health insurance, savings and the lack of ability to get loans or mortgage. The boom of temp jobs without it being an accepted structure will continue to erode the middle class.

  • James

    In 2006, a large employer here laid off a bunch of their workers. But, the jobs didn’t go away. The company asked a staffing company to send more workers to fill those jobs.

  • Nick

    When I lived in D.C., after I was done interning in the Senate, I spent a month job-hunting with no success. I was forced to turn to temp agencies. Despite the obvious down-sides (low pay, “dry spells” with no paychecks at all, no benefits), there was a major upside, and that was networking. A few places I temped at really liked the work I did and enjoyed having me around the office. Several of my “temp bosses” wanted me to interview for positions, solving my problem of trying to break in from the outside.

    Long story short, I ended up turning them all down because I had already decided to make a career shift into computer science :) At that point I was just filling time until my first semester started.

  • M Twite

    I’ve been a temp, seasonal, and/or contract worker over 20 of the past 28 years. The upside is added flexibility but the lack of employer-based health insurance access and (especially) employer-based retirement programs.

  • James

    From my experience, Peter is correct. When I was a permatemp, there were occasionally changes in the demand for the products or services. When there was a drop, our staffing company supervisor might send half of us home, and reassign many of those who stayed. When there was an increase, the agency could quickly bring in people.

  • Peter

    I took on temp work after graduating college and not finding anyting permanent. The two six-month positions I had in the mortgage industry plus my degree in accounting are the reason I was hired at my current full-time job with a community bank. I think the temp industry is a great way to help recent grads get a foot in the door or experience on a resume.

  • mary

    I’ve been a independent contractor for over 5 years. I consider it my own business and the contracts are my clients.

  • Fran Lyon-Dugin

    Employers used to value an actual workforce and culture, and employees were rewarded for loyalty. Now the “workers” are just a commodity to be bought and sold for that “flexibility” that employers are looking for. The employee loyalty is gone as a result.

  • Joe in Minneapolis

    I spent a solid year moving from temp job to temp job, until I got one with enough work for them to hire me permanently.

    Temping was no substitute for the guaranteed steady income of an official job, and as a result I had to set aside more of my income for that “rainy day” when I was cast out again into the ranks of the unemployed.

    Still, I appreciated the variations within the various workplaces I operated in as a temp. I felt like a sort of “office mercenary” who would come an take care of what was overwhelming the different office places I’d work at.

    As such, I wish there was some sort of variation to traditional unemployment, something like “supplemental unemployment” that would allow people to take up temp work and collect unemployment. That would enable unemployed people to stay more involved in the working world and not be stuck idle.

  • Kate

    One employer that depends on temporary workers that you might not have discussed are American universities, where 60% of the faculty are adjunct part-time professors employed on a course by course basis. Adjunct professors get no benefits and typically try to piece together enough courses across various universities to make ends meet while searching for an elusive full time or tenure-track position.

  • Peg Dawson

    I work a part-time job at minimum wage. My perspective is that as the goal of companies is to maximize shareholder return by minimizing costs, while also giving upper management an increasingly higher percent of profits, this is accomplished by keeping the workforce as low-paid as possible.

    How can the economy improve while an increasing number of workers are earning less and less? We can’t buy that new car, the refrigerator or take a vaction when we are paid so poorly that we can’t meet our monthly needs to survive.

  • Adam

    I currently work for Manpower Group Inc., at IBM, and have for the last year and a half. In January, I lost my vacation pay (no vacation days) which took me 1600 hours to aquire, only to find out that manpowers quarterly income had risen by 150% each quarter the previous year, now I do the same job for even less money. Why should it be legal for a company to hoard jobs when the economy is as bad as it is?

  • Mark

    As a sub – sciences teacher I see myself as a temp for the school systems. They pay me no benefits and less wages than the regular teachers. Many times as I new teacher I also have to compete with older retired teachers who are getting their TRA pension, social security, and the wages that I otherwise would be getting as a temp or as a regular teacher in a district. So, it is no wonder to me that many people are struggling to get by, as temp positions are growing.

  • BJW

    I am a retired HR Director and have been “temping” for my former employer for about 3 years now. They get to take advantage of my expertise and I get to continue to do what I love but on a reduced schedule without the day to day responsibility and getting some extra income also is a bonus. It has been a “Win Win” situation for both.

  • Dan

    I worked as a temp and on contracts at 3M for a combined total of 6 years. Eventually, I went to law school to get a ‘real’ job. If I had been hired as a regular employee, I would have stayed on indefinitely.

    By the end of my time at 3M, if you added up how much I was getting paid and how much the contract agencies were getting paid, it exceeded the cost of an entry-level regular employee. When I left for law school, they lost those 6 years of training and experience they had invested in me. “Temp employees are cheaper” seems to be a common error in the minds of managers.