Low-Income and Low-Skilled Workers Involvement in Nonstandard Employment. Why Do At-Risk Workers Work In Alternative Work Arrangements And How Do They Like It?

10/01/2001

In order to understand the circumstances associated with alternative work arrangements, particularly for those workers most at risk of welfare receipt, it is important to examine the reasons for their employment in the industry and the satisfaction associated with this employment. It is fairly clear that most workers work in temporary help services because they have no choice, not that they choose temporary work for personal reasons. In particular, worker responses to the CPS question that examined the reasons for the choice of temporary employment found overwhelmingly that workers work in the temporary help industry for economic reasons--that is, it was the only type of work that they could find; that they hoped it would lead to permanent employment; or that the nature of the work was seasonal. Workers in the temporary help industry are not there for personal reasons such as schedule flexibility, child care, school scheduling, or family and personal obligations (See Table 3.13). This holds just as much (but not more) for at-risk workers as for all workers--roughly three out of five workers in the temporary help industry work for economic reasons, regardless of economic status. The slight decrease between 1995 and 1999 in temporary workers who cite economic reasons (from 63 percent to 56 percent) could be a reflection of improved economic conditions and options, however, this does not trickle down to at-risk workers--where just as many workers cited economic conditions for their employment choice in 1999 as in 1995.

Table 3.13
Reasons for Working in Alternative Work Arrangements
(% Who Cited an Economic Reason* as Opposed to a Personal Reason)

Work Arrangement

1995 1997 1999

All Workers

Agency Temps 63.2% 60.6% 56.3%
On-Call Workers 48.4 50.8 43.9

Public Assistance Recipients

Agency Temps 65.9% 64.5% 61.9%
On-Call Workers 63.2 60.6 50.7

Workers Below 150% Poverty

Agency Temps 67.2% 68.7% 68.5%
On-Call Workers 60.7 56.3 62.7

Source: Current Population Survey, matched February to March
* Economic reasons include: "Employer laid off and hired back as temporary worker", "Only type of work could find", "Hope job leads to permanent employment", "Other economic", "Retired/SS earnings limit", or "Nature of work/seasonal".

Not surprisingly, given this information about the reason for work in the alternative sector, most workers in temporary work are not particularly happy in that job. As Table 3.14 shows, almost one in four is looking for new work, and about two-thirds report that they would prefer a different job. This response is slightly higher for at-risk workers than for all workers, and there does appear to have been a sharp increase in both measures of dissatisfaction in 1999. This stands in marked contrast to regular workers, who are, by and large, quite satisfied with their jobs (95 percent of these workers are not looking for new jobs). It also stands in marked contrast to at-risk workers in regular jobs, who are only marginally more likely to be looking for new work than are all workers.

Table 3.14
Job Satisfaction and Preferences
(% Looking for a New Job or Indicating
a Preference for a New Type of Employment)

Work Arrangement

1995 1997 1999
Looking for a New Job Would Prefer a Different Job Looking for a New Job Would Prefer a Different Job Looking for a New Job Would Prefer a Different Job

All Workers

Agency Temps 33.0% 67.6% 22.6% 63.8% 27.1% 63.0%
On-Call Workers 18.8 61.3 14.8 56.6 15.2 51.1
Regular Workers 5.4 na 5.1 na 4.6 na

Public Assistance Recipients

Agency Temps

35.6% 77.8% 28.6% 64.0% 26.7% 69.1%

On-Call Workers

26.8 78.1 20.7 76.9 25.6 59.9

Regular Workers

6.9 na 6.4 na 6.1 na

Workers Below 150% Poverty

Agency Temps

32.4% 71.8% 24.5% 62.8% 31.9% 71.6%

On-Call Workers

26.9 72.5 22.0 67.6 23.9 74.5

Regular Workers

7.4 na 7.5 na 6.1 na

Source: Current Population Survey, matched February to March.
Note: job preference was not asked of regular workers in the CPS.