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Temporary Workers Gaining Market Share, Statistics Show : So-called contingent employees make up 5% to 24% of work force, depending on who’s counting. Firms cite flexibility, finances.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you are employed, say, as a writer, common sense suggests that your job is contingent upon someone else being a cash-paying reader. Likewise, if you are an astronaut, your employment is contingent upon some government’s willingness to boost your precious self into space.

But that is not what the jargoneers of American commerce have in mind with their latest creation, the subcategory of employment known as the “contingent worker.” This is becoming the preferred euphemism for the ever-expanding legions of modern Americans who do not have traditional 9-to-5 jobs.

Terminology settled, statisticians and economists still remain far apart on the more important question of just how many contingents there are among us in the volatile economy of the 1990s.

Would you believe 5% of the work force? That’s what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says in its first-ever study of “contingent and alternative” employment, conducted in 1995.

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That study counted people whose jobs are not expected to last a year. It also included self-employed people with less than one year on the job who likewise don’t expect their jobs to last. That adds up to between 2.7 million and 6 million workers, or between 2.2% and 4.9% of the work force.

The National Assn. of Part-Time and Temporary Employees takes a broader view than the government. It counts as contingents those workers employed full time by temporary agencies, as well as permanent part-time workers.

By that definition, the organization estimates there are 30 million contingent workers in the country, or 24% of the work force.

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Here is a sampler of other findings from some of the expert sources studying the changing nature of America’s contingent work force:

* In a survey this year of 400 corporations, the Olsten Corp.--a staffing firm--found that 70% used contingent staffing, with 41% saying they were “heavy users” and 45% saying they planned to rely more on temporary workers in the future. The survey also showed 54% of the firms reported that they were understaffed because of downsizing.

* In just two years, from 1993 to 1995, the number of part-time workers in America rose 11.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

* The National Assn. of Part-Time and Temporary Employees says that in the last dozen years, the industry grew 361% to where there now are 1,935 temporary-help hiring offices in California, 58.9% more than any other state.

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* The National Assn. of Temporary and Staffing Services says the industry’s 1995 payroll was almost $28 billion.

* Typically, temporary workers are thought of as office help. But actually 60% are not, and the trend is toward more professional types of work. The number of professionals in the temporary work force rose from 1.4% in 1991 to 5.8% in 1995. Meanwhile, there are fewer temporary clerical workers, dropping from 47.6% of the temporary work pool in 1991 to 39.5% in 1995, according to the National Assn. of Temporary and Staffing Services.

* The Assn. of Part-Time and Temporary Employees estimates that 75% of temporary workers earn less than $8 per hour. Professionals who are temporary workers, however, can earn more than $20 per hour.

* Women make up 72% of all temporary workers, according to the Temporary and Staffing Services Assn. But unlike elsewhere in the labor pool, women who are part-time workers earn slightly more on average than men. Across all occupations, female part-time workers earn an average of $8.82 per hour, 23.1% less than their full-time counterparts but 11 cents more per hour than their part-time male co-workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s “State of Working America” report.

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* Employers offer different explanations for their growing reliance on contingent workers. According to a December 1995 article in Money magazine:

1. 81% of employers want a flexible work force.

2. 48% say they are out to acquire expertise that contingents can bring.

3. 46% simply wanted to control head count, as in downsizing.

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* When it comes to benefits, 29% of part-time and temporary employees are covered under employer-sponsored programs, according to the Employee Benefit Plan Review’s October 1996 issue.

A National Assn. of Temporary and Staffing Services study in 1994 showed the following benefits breakdown for temporary workers: 56% received holiday pay; 39% got paid vacation; 46% received skills training; 22% got bonuses; 8% have health care coverage; 4% received life insurance; 3% got sick pay and 2% were in a retirement plan.


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