Whether the economy is doing well or not may depend upon who you ask. If you ask America’s top earners and those who have consistently invested in the stock market, the U.S. economy is on fire. If you ask people at the lower end of the economic scale what they think, you understand why there’s so much disconnect in our political process.
The job market is, by any measure, better than it was in the wake of the Great Recession. Unemployment, as we currently measure it, stands at 4.8%. How good the employment market feels again depends on who you ask. For many the fact that jobs are plentiful means nothing because the real shortage is in good jobs.
Many workplaces have become split between contractors and actual company employees. Anyone who has worked as a military contractor understands what a fissured office looks like, with contractors and military people routinely working side by side. The practice has been common in the IT business for decades. Back in the 1990s, many of the people who worked at the Microsoft Redmond campus actually worked for a company named Volt. Recently the trend of in-house outsourcing has begun to spread to other business sectors and job classes. Today the company you work for may not have any actual connection to where you work. Workers at a particular job site or office may be getting paid by three or four different companies.
The Profit Motive
The idea that you can add an extra layer of management and profit overhead to a particular job and get it done cheaper is economic fraud. What it does is allow company execs to move jobs off the books and pad executive bonuses. If firings or layoffs happen, then it’s up to the contracting company to deliver the bad news and deal with the expense. By keeping employee hours down and only hiring temps, the middleman companies stiff workers minimal or no benefits. That’s how the middleman companies make a profit, by taking the money out of their worker’s pockets.
Workers Pay The Price
Who ends up getting squeezed are the employees themselves who find themselves in an endless cycle of temporary jobs. Labor laws only allow a particular worker to stay on as a temp for a year. After that the temp is considered an employee.
The Gig Economy
The gig economy is either the greatest way to make extra money ever invented or the worst abuse of the contractor designation ever devised. The truth is probably that it’s a little of both. People working gig to gig through companies, like TaskRabbit, are basically independent contractors who hire themselves out for an hourly rate. Companies like TaskRabbit are nothing but matchmakers who skim a margin off the gig price. It’s much the same as casinos keeping a percentage of poker pots. Again, you’re working for minimal pay and no benefits. Ask people cobbling gigs together to make ends meet how they feel about the employment picture in America.
Be Wary Of Temp-to-Hire
These days temps have become a way to screen for permanent employees. Think of the process of being like an extended audition. The truth is your chances of getting hired are slim and, if a company decides to cut back, contractors are almost always the first ones out the door.
It’s a brave new working world and, to be blunt, a lot of it sucks. Gigs, temps, and temp-to-hire are all employment quicksand but, for many people, it’s that or nothing.