Low-Income and Low-Skilled Workers Involvement in Nonstandard Employment. Definitions

As discussed in Chapter 2, the CPS February supplement asks a series of questions that allow us to categorize workers into a variety of alternative work arrangements. The questions ascertain whether the worker is employed on a temporary basis, and if so, the reason for that temporary status. Follow-up questions ask whether the worker's salary is paid by a temporary agency or a contract company, whether the worker is employed on-call, as a day laborer, or is self-employed. Responses to these questions are used to categorize workers as temporary agency and on-call workers.

Although the CPS data allow us to focus on many alternative work arrangements, we focus our analysis on temporary agency and on-call workers. We choose not to focus on the other work arrangements identified in the CPS because the distinctions between regular employment and these types of alternative work arrangements can be narrow. Also, since the core notion of alternative work arrangements describes the relationship between employer and employee (a relationship that differs from standard work arrangements), the nature of temporary agency and on-call work more closely fit our definition of alternative work arrangements for the purposes of this analysis.

In addition to examining the temporary and on-call population as a whole, we also use the CPS to examine the subset of workers who may be at risk of welfare recipiency. The definition of at risk of welfare recipiency is conceptually difficult to pin down. There are different types of public assistance--Aid to Families with Dependent Children/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, and Food Stamps--and eligibility measures vary by state and family background. Thus, workers with identical earnings, but in different states and in different environments, might well be at different levels of risk of welfare recipiency. Therefore, we use two measures of at-risk workers: those workers who live in households with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level and those who have received public assistance in the previous year (who may not be current welfare recipients).(62)