Contingency: a last word

Having refuted (here, here, and here) a lot of folk wisdom about increased volatility in the job market, I’d to file a postscript on the meaning of it all. The folk wisdom exaggerates the prevalence of contingent and temporary work, but that doesn’t mean the working class is living in ease and comfort. It’s not. For evidence we can turn to a very orthodox source—the Federal Reserve’s survey of economic well-being (and data appendix). A third of respondents, 33%, report themselves “living comfortably”; 40% are “doing okay,” 19% are “just getting by,” and… Read More

Contingency: a follow-up

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… Read More

Contingency: almost every demographic is down

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. The share for workers in the 20–25 age group declined more than the… Read More

No it’s not a gig economy

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… Read More