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Contingent work: results from the second survey
November 1998, Vol. 121, No. 11
Both the number and proportion of workers with contingent jobs that is, jobs that are structured to be short term or temporary fell between 1995 and 1997. In the early 1990s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics developed a survey to estimate the number of contingent workers, conducting its first survey on the topic in February 1995. When the results of that first survey were published, three alternative measures of contingent work were introduced.1 Under the broadest of the three definitions, there were 5.6 million contingent workers in 1997, and the contingency rate, which represents the proportion of the employed population holding contingent jobs, was 4.4 percent.2 By comparison, in 1995, 6.0 million workers held contingent jobs, or 4.9 percent of total employment. The decline in the number and proportion of workers with temporary jobs coincided with a period of low unemployment and strong job growth.3
This article examines data on contingent work arrangements from the second special supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS) on the topic, conducted in February 1997.4 In the supplements, contingent workers are defined as individuals who do not perceive themselves as having an explicit or implicit contract for ongoing employment. The analysis presented here focuses on the most broadly defined group of contingent workers (estimate 3), using noncontingent workers those who are not classified as contingent even under the broadest definition as a point of comparison.5
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1 For an explanation of the three measures, as well as other relevant concepts and definitions, see the appendix, pp. 3435. For more on the definitions, as well as analysis of the results of the 1995 survey, see the articles in the special issue of the Monthly Labor Review on contingent workers and alternative work arrangements, October 1996.
2 Contingency rates are calculated by dividing the number of contingent workers in a specified worker group by total employment for the same worker group.
3 For instance, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in February 1995 and 5.3 percent in February 1997, both low by historical standards. Employment growth, as measured by the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, a monthly sample survey of about 390,000 nonfarm business establishments, averaged 206,000 per month between the two survey dates.
4 The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a nationwide sample survey of about 50,000 households, conducted monthly by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPS collects information about the demographic characteristics and employment status of the noninstitutional working-age population (16 years and older). Special supplements the CPS occasionally are added to the survey questionnaire to obtain information on various topics of interest. The first CPS supplement on contingent work and alternative work arrangements was conducted in February 1995. This article examines data from the 1997 supplement, comparing the results with those obtained in 1995.
5 The two narrower estimates of contingency (estimates 1 and 2) require a 1-year tenure restriction on workers current and expected tenure with their employers. The broadest definition of contingency (estimate 3) removes this tenure restriction and basically includes all workers who say that their jobs are temporary. Although the median tenure for contingent workers under the broadest definition (0.7 year) was much less than that for noncontingent workers (5 years), 45 percent of these contingent workers had been with their employers for 1 year or more.
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