Monday, April 11, 2016

All the Job Growth is in "Alternative" Jobs

There's a widespread sense that fewer American jobs involve an ongoing connection to a employer, and a larger share are in some sense temporary or on-call. "Gig economy" jobs with companies like Uber are the most prominent recent example of this concern, but while the issue seems potentially much broader, hard data is lacking. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has sometimes conducted a Contingent Worker Survey, but for budgetary reasons, that survey hasn't been conducted since 2005.
The Secretary of the US Department of Labor, Thomas Perez, announced a few ago that the the survey would be done again in May 2017.  But in the meantime, efforts to spell out "How Many in the Gig Economy?" (February 16, 2016) have typically used a wide variety of definitions and partial data sources, making it hard to reach clear conclusions.

Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger took on this challenge head-on. The RAND Corp. conducts research using an American Life Panel, "a nationally representative, probability-based panel of over 6000 members ages 18 and older."  Katz and Krueger contracted with RAND to include a set of questions about contingent workers in the October-November 2015 American Life Panel Survey. The questions were based on those used in 1995 and 2005 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first round of results from this research apppear in a working paper, "The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015," which was published online on March 29, 2016.

The headline finding is that the share of US workers in "alternative" arrangements didn't rise much from 1995 to 2005, but did indeed rise substantially from 2005 to 2015. However, at least so far, only a small share of that increase is due to on-line gig economy jobs like Uber. Katz and Krueger write (citations omitted):
A comparison of our survey results from the 2015 RPCWS [RAND-Princeton Contingent Worker Survey] to the 2005 BLS CWS [Bureau of Labor Statistics Contingent Worker Survey] indicates that the percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements – defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract company workers, and independent contractors or freelancers – rose from 10.1 percent in February 2005 to 15.8 percent in late 2015. This increase
is particularly noteworthy given that the BLS CWS showed hardly any change in the percent of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements from 1995 to 2005. We further find that about 0.5 percent of workers indicate that they are working through an online intermediary, such as Uber or Task Rabbit ... Thus, the online gig workforce is relatively small compared to other forms of alternative work arrangements, although it is growing very rapidly. ...  The General Accounting Office (2015) analyzes data from the General Social Survey and CWS and finds that an expansive definition of alternative work arrangements, which includes part-time employees, increased from 35.3 to 40.4 percent of employment from 2006 to 2010."
Future work on this data will dig into details about wages, total earnings, and work hours for these alternative workers. But some striking patterns emerge even from this first cut at the data. For starters, as Katz and Krueger write: "A striking implication of these estimates is that all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements."

This change toward alternative work arrangements is widespread across industries. It also seems to be occurring in roughly equal force across the income distribution, although the "alternative" workers at the low end of the income distribution are more likely to be categorized as temporary help agency jobs and on-call jobs, while the alternative workers at the  high end of the income distribution are more likely to be categorized as independent consultants and freelancers.

But more broadly, it appears that those who have been looking for jobs in the last decade or so, or who are looking now, are much more likely to find that the jobs on offer involve a fundamentally different set of employment relationships compared to the common jobs of the 20th century--much less likely to involve an ongoing relationship with an employer.