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October 1996, Vol. 119, No. 10
A profile of contingent workers
Anne E. Polivka
To some, the terms "contingent work" and "bad jobs" are synonymous, although that was not necessarily what was intended when the phrase was originally coined. To examine how closely these two notions may be linked, it is necessary to analyze specific attributes of contingent jobs, along with the personal characteristics of those who fill them. This article profiles contingent workers using data collected through a special supplement to the February 1995 Current Population Survey (CPS). This supplement provides the first comprehensive measurement of contingent workers using carefully constructed definitions.
The underlying concept that was operationalized in the supplement defines contingent workers as individuals who do not have an explicit or implicit contract for ongoing employment. The introductory article in this issue (pages 39) discusses three estimates of the number of contingent workers constructed from the February 1995 CPS supplement data. The first estimate was restricted to wage and salary workers who expected their jobs to last for an additional year or less and who had worked at their jobs for 1 year or less. Individuals who did not expect to continue in their jobs for personal reasons, such as retirement or returning to school, were not considered contingent if they would have had the option of continuing in their jobs. Under this definition, there were approximately 2.7 million contingent workers in February 1995.
The second estimate of contingent workers added self-employed workers and independent contractors who expected their employment to last for an additional year or less and who had been self-employed or an independent contractor for 1 year or less. It also changed the measure of actual and expected job tenure for contract workers and temporary help workers from tenure with these employment intermediaries to tenure in their current assignment. Under these criteria, 3.4 million workers were classified as contingent in February 1995.
The third estimate of contingency expanded the second estimate by removing the 1-year requirement on actual and expected tenure for wage and salary workers. (The tenure constraint could not be removed for self-employed workers and independent contractors because they were asked a different set of questions.) Essentially, under estimate 3, contingent workers were defined as workers who did not expect their jobs to last, except those who, for personal reasons, expected to leave jobs that they would otherwise be able to retain. Under this broadest estimate, 6 million workers were classified as contingent.
In this article, the characteristics of contingent workers under each of these three definitions are examined. The characteristics of noncontingent workers, defined as those who were not contingent even under the broadest estimate of contingency (estimate 3), are provided as a point of reference.
This excerpt is from an article published in the October 1996 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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