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November 1996, Vol. 119, No. 11
Home-based workers: data from the 1990 Census of Population
Linda N. Edwards and Elizabeth Field-Hendrey
As communication and computer technology continue to advance, the facility with which people can engage in paid work at home, rather than traveling to an office or factory, has become part of the folklore of the contemporary American economy. In a dramatic contrast to the changes stimulated by the industrial revolution, which drove workers out of the home and into the factory, the current technological revolution has created an opportunity for the return of market work to the home. Recent sample surveys conducted by Link Resources Corporation report that the number of people who do some of the work for their primary jobs at home grew, on average, 8.9 percent annually between 1989 and 1993; by the latter year, 33.0 percent of the adult work force engaged in some work at home.1 A more reliable estimate from a special supplement to the May 1991 Current Population Survey (CPS) indicates that 18.3 percent of all nonfarm workers were "engaged in some work at home as part of their primary job."2
Not all of the people who do some work at home, however, are home-based workers. Many of them, such as schoolteachers, are simply taking work home from the office to finish in the evenings and are not explicitly remunerated for that work. Indeed, according to William G. Deming,3 60 percent of workers who do some work at home are not explicitly paid for it. Further, of the 40 percent who are compensated for their work at home (either as wage and salary workers or as self-employed workers), about half worked fewer than 8 hours per week at home, and only 14.5 percent worked 35 or more hours at home. Thus, the CPS phrase "engaged in some work at home as part of [ones] primary job" encompasses a wide variety of work styles.
Our objective in this article is to present a study of those workers whose primary place of employment is their own homeeither as a paid employee or as a self-employed worker. More specifically, we seek to provide a detailed description of home-based workers in 1990, using the Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) of the 1990 Census of Population. Our description focuses on demographic and economic variables such as sex, age, race, marital status, family composition, class of worker, hours worked, wages, and industry and occupation of employment. Special attention is directed to how male and female home-based workers differ and to how home-based workers differ from other workers.
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1 Link Resources Corporation, news release, "1993 Home Office Trend Fact Sheet." The data come from proprietary surveys taken by the company and are made available to the public only in the form of news releases. According to these releases, Link Resources National Work-at-Home Survey is based on telephone surveys of 2,500 randomly selected U.S. households. The company defines a homeworker as a person aged 18 or older who performs "income-producing or job-related work at home part- or full-timeand/or uses one or more of the following for work at home: PC, modem, fax, multiple phone lines." Link Resources estimate of the proportion of homeworkers, thus defined, for 1991 was 31.2 percent, which is substantially higher than the proportion for 1991 reported in the Current Population Survey (CPS) special survey taken that year and published in 1994.
2 William G. Deming, "Work at home: data from the CPS," Monthly Labor Review, February 1994, pp. 1420.
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