Contingency: a follow-up

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/06/2018 - 5:39am in

My post on contingent and “alternative” work (and the demographic follow-up) annoyed some people who think the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the source of the data, is missing the point through bad definitions and bad techniques. (As am I, for using it.) According to these critics, asking people whether they expect their jobs to last the year is using the wrong definition of contingency—though it’s not clear what the right one is, since most employed people in the U.S. can be fired for no reason at all at any time. Or the BLS was wrong to focus only on the primary job; plenty of people do gig work on the side to supplement their incomes, so the Bureau is—perhaps intentionally!—lowballing the numbers. Yes, though we don’t know how many such people there are (though we’ll know more when the BLS releases its data on “individuals who found short tasks or jobs through a mobile app or website and were paid through the same app or website” on September 30). But the side hustle is a different story from the canonical gig economy line, which is that we’re all day laborers now. Or, best criticism of all, the numbers are just wrong because they don’t comport with my correspondents’ experience. But you don’t know how representative your experience is, do you?

Here are some stats to address these counterclaims.

job tenure

The gig economy story is closely related to idea that the permanent job is a thing of the past—we all bounce from job to job now. That perception is not confirmed by the BLS’s job tenure numbers, which report the median number of years people have been in their current position. Here’s what it those look like like broken down by sex.

Job tenure

Median tenure has bounced around some but the lines are surprisingly trendless, given the chatter about increased volatility. Tenure overall barely changed between 1998 and 2016; it fell by about a year through 1980s and 1990s and rose since; it was about one month longer in 2016 than it was in 1983. That average does obscure some gender differences. Tenure for men fell by a year between 1983 and 1998, rose by half a year through 2014, and then fell a bit between then and 2016, to a level about eight months shorter than 1983. Tenure for women, however, has been rising fairly steadily; it rose about ten months between 1983 and 2016.

There’s not all that much change in tenure by age or industry either. For younger workers, those between 25 and 34, tenure fell by three to four months between 1983 and 2016, with not much variation in the intervening years. By industry, tenure rose by two years between 1983 and 2016 in construction, fell by a month or two in manufacturing, and has risen across most intervals in retail trade and finance. Tenure in government was up by nearly two years between 1983 and 2016. Of course 1983 was not 1963, the Golden Age before everything reportedly went haywire in the 1970s. But 1983 was very early in the neoliberal era, so we should expect to see more of a change than we have.


Another counter to the job-churning story: turnover now is lower now than it was in the early 1990s. The monthly employment numbers—like “employers added 223,000 jobs in May”—are net figures, and are the difference between many gross job gains and losses. At current rates, that 223,000 figure probably results from something like 2.5 million gross gains, from new and existing employers, and 2.3 million losses, from shrinking firms or ones that go under. (We won’t know the actual numbers for many months yet—these are just guesses from recent trends.) Add the gross gains and losses together and you get figures on gross turnover—almost 5 million jobs come and go in a typical month lately.

Here’s what those gross numbers look like (translated into percentages of employment to make them comparable over time). All are down considerably from the 1990s. The trendline in the turnover graph heads steadily down; the r2 figure of 0.92 means that the trend alone explains 92% of the movement in the series. That’s not to say time is causing the downtrend; it is to say it’s very well-established.

BED gains, losses, turnover

part-time work

Another claim: we’re all juggling multiple part-time jobs, or working short hours because full-time employment isn’t available. There has been little change in the share of part-time employment in the total since the early 1980s. It was around 17% of the total in 1980, and is around 17% today. Part-time employment comes in two measures: noneconomic or voluntary (people who prefer part-time work), and economic or involuntary (people who want full-time work but can’t find it). Noneconomic is essentially trendless since 1975. Economic is highly cyclical, rising in recessions, and falling in expansions. It’s now at or below the lows of the late 1970s and late 1980s. It’s slightly above where it was in 2000, a serious boom year. (There were definitional and technical changes in the survey on which these numbers are based in 1994; they took the economic share down by 1.1. Instead of inferring whether part-time workers wanted full-time, as had been the case earlier, surveyors began explicitly asking if respondents want full-time work, a not-unfair question but one that yields smaller numbers. There have been no significant changes in the survey since then.)

part time

multiple jobs

Ok, maybe gig work isn’t the norm, but lots of people are doing it on the side, right? Maybe, but you’d have to find some fresh numbers to support that case. Here’s the share of multiple jobholders. It declined from 1998 through 2011 and has been flat since. Lately less than 5% of the employed have been working more than one job. We’ve only got 24 years of this data, so it’s hard to make generalizations about it, but it looks like multiple jobholding rises early in an expansion and falls later as the labor market tightens.

Multiple jobholders

temp work

There has been no uptrend in temp employment in almost 20 years. There was a sustained rise from when the stats on temporary help firms (then called “help supply” in BLS argot) begin 1982 through 1998, but the trend has been flat since. Temp employment fell sharply in the Great Recession, and somewhat less in the early-2000s downturn, and rose after both to the 2% neighborhood. Temp firms accounted for 2% of employment in May 2018, exactly what they did in October 1999.

Temp employment


If a growing horde of us were 1099ers (disclosure alert: I’m one), then you might think the count of the self-employed would reflect it. But they’re not showing up in the BLS’s monthly employment numbers (which they compile by asking 60,000 people lots of questions every month). Self-employment has been declining as a share of the total for almost 70 years, with the exception of a mild rise in the 1970s and 1980s. Yes, this is also about people’s main job; there may be more freelancing to pick up extra cash. But these numbers offer no support for claims that the traditional job is disappearing.


As I said at the end of the first contingency post, none of this is to say that the world of work is pleasant or secure. Much of the population works hard and still can’t make ends meet. Except at the top, wages have been stagnant for decades and benefits are disappearing. But the stories of a new precarity are grossly overdone. You have to wonder that they gain salience because they’re written by academics and journalists, two fields where contingent employment seems more prominent than in other fields. But precarity has been the condition of the working class since the beginning of capitalism. That’s a major reason why it’s a bad system and should be replaced.

What’s Behind The Decline In Women Working?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/06/2018 - 1:00am in


Labor, Women

Women’s labor force participation and employment peaked around 2000. Many have speculated since then about what caused this stall out and slight decline, with leading theories emphasizing the Great Recession and the lack of family benefits in the US like subsidized child care. There is no doubt some truth to these other theories, but there is another more straightforward cause of this decline: the changing racial demographics of the country. In May of 2000, white women made up 70.4 percent of all women between the ages of 25 and 54. By May of 2018, that number was down to 57.6 percent. Over that same period, Latina women went from 11.3 percent of the population to 18.9 percent. The residual “other” group also grew from 5.2 percent to 10 percent.

Contingency: almost every demographic is down

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 12:32pm in

Someone on Twitter, reacting to my last post on contingent employment, wrote this:

“Contingent workers were more than twice as likely as noncontingent workers to be under age 25.” Profitable corporations are putting lots of young people in incredibly exploitative jobs and making it normal. For the young work is a new hell, and it’s not temporary.

Workers under the age of 25 are less likely to be contingent than they were 22 years ago. Here’s the detail by demographic group.

Contingent workers by demo

The share for workers in the 20–25 age group declined more than the average—especially women. The only groups to see an increase in share were teenage males and, barely, women aged 55–64.

This is not to say that young workers—or any workers except the professional/managerial elite—have a great thing going. But our critique should be about wages, benefits, working conditions, and our savage lack of a basic welfare state, not about “precarity.”

No it’s not a gig economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 9:39am in

Despite the voluble testimony of pundits and bar companions, the world of work is not one of Uber drivers and temp workers. In fact, the share of U.S. employment accounted for by contingent and “alternative” arrangements is lower now than it was in 2005 and 1995.

That testimony is derived from several original sources. For example, a much ballyhooed 2014 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union—which is not a materially disinterested party—reported that a third of workers are freelancers. The claim of a 2016 paper by Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger that “all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements” was widely quoted and quickly became folk wisdom. That paper was based on an online survey conducted by the RAND Corporation The survey was small—fewer than 4,000 respondents—and its sample wasn’t very representative of the overall population, a flaw the authors corrected through vigorous statistical handiwork.

Data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics should put an end to this chatter. According to a special edition of their Current Population Survey, a monthly poll of 60,000 households conducted jointly with the Census Bureau, just 3.8% of workers were classed as contingent in May 2017, meaning they don’t expect their job to last a year. That’s down from 4.1% in 2005 and 4.9% in 1995. (Reports from the years before 2017 are here.) Tighter definitions show smaller shares, but also down from earlier years. In 2017, 96.2% of workers were noncontingent, compared with 95.1% 22 years earlier.

The share of workers in “alternative” arrangements was 10.1%. Of those, 6.9% were independent contractors, 1.7% were on-call, and 1.5% were employed by either temp or contract firms. That means that 89.9% of the workforce has a “traditional” job, down 0.2 point from 1995.

There’s less of a racial pattern to contingency than one might guess: 3.7% of white workers don’t expect their jobs to last, compared to 4.0% of black workers; 4.9% of Asian, and 5.1% of “Hispanic/Latino.” All these shares are down from 1995. Nor is there a vast gender disparity: 3.9% of women, vs. 3.8% of men are contingent.

And not all independent contractors are freelancers hanging on by a thread: 39% are in managerial or professional occupations, slightly less than their share of the overall workforce. These would include self-employed doctors or consultants. Reflecting that, independent contractors are more likely to be white and male than nonwhite non-men. Other forms of alternative arrangements show surprisingly little variation by race and gender; nonwhites are more likely to be temp workers, but there’s no gender gap at all. Almost all demographic groups show little change from 1995, and most of those changes are downward.

Of course, not all contingent workers are consultants or contract programmers. Full-time contingent workers earn 77% as much as noncontingent workers; contingent part-timers earn 89% as much as noncontingent part-timers.. Almost three-quarters—73%—have some kind of employer-provided health insurance, compared to 84% of noncontingents. All in all, 55% of contingent workers would like a traditional job.

“Alternative” workers are better off. Full-time independent contractors make 96% as much as noncontingent full-timers; contract workers (heavily used in tech) make 22% more. Temp workers—0.9% of the workforce—are much worse off, however, making 41% less than the traditionally employed. About three-quarters of independent contractors have employer-provided health insurance, but only two-thirds of temp workers do.

None of this is to argue that the world of work is a delight. But we should be clear about what the problems are. Precarity isn’t the major problem in the American labor market. It’s that wages are stagnant or worse, benefits are eroding, and much labor is dull, alienating, pointless, and sometimes dangerous. Many people with normal, full-time jobs have a hard time making ends meet, and most households have little or no savings to fall back on in a crisis. Emphasizing precarity only makes workers feel even more powerless than they are.

ALP Regrets Having National Office Situated In Sydney’s China Town

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/06/2018 - 8:19am in


Politics, China, Labor

The Australian Labor Party is to relocate it’s National office currently located in Sussex street Sydney in an area known as ‘China Town.’ The move comes after several of it’s members became addicted to Chinese take-away.

“We’ve been in Sussex street for years and it has always served us well. It’s close to transport and the cheap Chinese food available is quite beneficial,” said a Party spokesperson. “However sometimes too much of a good thing is not always what’s best. We’ve had problems with members becoming too enthused about the Chinese…”

“I mean we all saw what happened to Dasher (Sam Dastyari) and now Bob Carr’s in on it. The poor bloke’s so enthused about the Chinese he’s ringing up members in Canberra to see if they want in on it.”

When asked where the party might look to moving the Spokesperson replied: “Nothing set in stone yet, we’ve heard good things about Little Russia and Little North Korea might have some space available soon, so we will see.”

Mark Williamson

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter or like us on facebook

Belabored Podcast #152: SCOTUS’s Epic Fail, with Celine McNicholas

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/06/2018 - 6:08am in


Blog, Labor, Law, SCOTUS

Economist Celine McNicholas breaks down what last week’s Supreme Court ruling means for workers—and why more individual arbitration is bad news.

Work Levels In The US And Nordic Countries

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/06/2018 - 2:00am in



US workers put in more hours than workers in all four Nordic countries and way more hours than workers in Denmark and Norway. Getting down to Danish and Norwegian levels of work would be like giving American workers 2.2 additional months of vacation each year. What is especially interesting about America’s high number of hours worked is that normally hours worked declines as hourly productivity goes up. This is true generally across countries and also true within the Nordic countries. But it is not really true of the US, which works far more hours than its hourly productivity would predict. The following graph shows the PPP-adjusted GDP per hour of the US and the Nordic countries.

A Report from Barcelona

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/05/2018 - 7:06am in



Barcelona has once again become a center of radical politics. After decades of brutal repression under Franco, the Left has returned and the city is alive with political activity. Of course, the Left of 2018 is not the same Left that controlled Barcelona during the first months of the Spanish Civil War.

read more

Was Karl Polanyi wrong? Land, labor, and private authority in the global economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/05/2018 - 12:01am in

by Tim Bartley* Karl Polanyi famously argued that land, labor, and money are “fictitious commodities.” They cannot be fully subjected to the dictates of the market without spurring backlashes that seek to re-embed them in society.  It is easy to … Continue reading →

Belabored Podcast #151: Empowering the Souls of Poor Folk, with Rev. Liz Theoharis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/05/2018 - 5:39am in

Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s campaign, joins us to talk about why people are marching across the country against poverty and for economic justice.