News / USA

US Freelance 'Perma-Temp' Economy Takes Hold

In US, a Freelance 'Perma-Temp' Economy Takes Holdi
X
October 24, 2013 9:05 PM
A shift from full-time permanent employment to part-time temporary work has swept the U.S. economy, gathering speed since the 2008 financial crisis. One in three American workers is now either freelance, a project-based contractor or permanently temporary, according to the Freelancers Union, a private non-profit group. Most do not have benefits or security. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver profiles two New York professionals who are finding only short-term work - one at the beginning of her career, and another who thought he was near the end of his.
Carolyn Weaver
Harry Zupnik, an information technology specialist who lives in a New York City suburb, was laid off in 2007 from a large telecommunications company. “Since then, a little over six years, I’ve had approximately 24 months of employment,” he said. “And all the employment I’ve had has been project-related, temporary jobs: Come in, do a project, finish it, get out.”

Zupnik had hoped to be semi-retired by the time he turned 60. Instead, he’s afraid to turn down any job that comes his way. “I spend all of my time scrambling,” he said. “When I’m not working, I’m afraid to take vacations. I’m afraid because of the cost, and I’m afraid to take vacations because, oh my gosh, I might miss a project opportunity.”

Zupnik is one of the millions of Americans whose work lives have shifted radically in recent years. One in three working Americans now is part-time, freelance, in a temporary or project-based job, or employed as a “perma-temp,” according to the Freelancers Union. Most have no job security or benefits, such as employer-subsidized health insurance or a pension plan. The Harvard Business Review recently called it by far the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. job market.

The numbers are expected to grow, in part because of a mandate in the new health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, requiring companies with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance only to those who work at least 30 hours a week.

Peter Capelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said the change began in the 1980s, with the first wave of restructuring and outsourcing, together with the decline of unions and skilled manufacturing jobs.

“It has pushed the uncertainty that business copes with onto the work force,” he said in an interview over Skype. “Companies don’t know for sure these days whether demand will be up or down, or how long projects will last. It used to be that they carried workers in the life-time employment arrangements. When business went down, they kept them around. Now they don’t.”

Corinne Pulicay, half Harry Zupnik’s age, is in a similar bind. Last year she quit a full-time job because it had no promotion potential. Now she’s struggling to support herself while she studies textile design and marketing part-time.

“I’ve had trouble finding a steady job doing the same thing I used to do, doing production art, so I’ve had to resort to doing a variety of temp jobs,” she said. “I think people of my generation are very disillusioned. I don’t think there’s any expectation that we’ll get Social Security benefits in the future. I know a lot of my peers who, along with their day jobs, wait tables or tend bar, or are on more than one freelance gig.”

“We’re not really good as individuals at accommodating uncertainty,” said Capelli. “Most people don’t have the deep financial pockets that might make it reasonable to do. It’s not good for employees. The employers prefer it, and think it helps them remain competitive. So, it’s a winners and losers story here, and the employers have been winning and the employees have been losing.”

Zupnik points to the pressure businesses feel from Wall Street and their stockholders to increase profits by cutting labor costs.

“They’re justifying it by the bottom line, by the fact that they’re looking at short-term measurable financial results, and not at long-term value creation. There are intense pressures from Wall Street to perform and to perform now. And when you fail to perform, these companies are punished,” he said.

There is a world of difference in the lives of all those who work at irregular or “contingent,” jobs. Day laborers, many of them undocumented immigrants, wait on certain corners in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx every morning in hopes of picking up a day’s work on a building site, or cleaning houses. Others must arrive before dawn at blue-collar temp agencies, like Manpower, and are bused out to non-skilled jobs in warehouses or factories.

Meanwhile, some well-paid professionals choose a freelance life. Interior designer Clare Donahue, for example, has worked as an independent contractor for 30 years, shrugging off anxious family members who urged her to get a regular job. Paradoxically, her employment now seems more secure than her sister’s, who always had a regular job, said Donahue.

“She has struggled for security her whole life, and yet she’s ended up moving from job to job. She’ll start at a job, the company will be bought, they’ll start laying people off, and then everyone is fired. You go through this cycle again and again,” she said.

As for herself, Donahue isn’t as confident about the future as she once was.

“I’ve never felt really insecure until recently,” she said. “It’s a different situation for me now than it was when I started out 30 years ago. It may come to a point where there’s no safety net at the end where you need it. If I were injured, if I retired and needed help, there’s no guarantee now that anything will be there.”

For Harry Zupnik, who recently took a temporary job in Buffalo, one of the most distressing aspects of the new economic landscape is that even the projects he does land are limited in scope, and don’t give him an opportunity to use all his skills. His struggle for employment touches every part of his life, he said.

“It’s very tiring, it’s affected my family life, my friendships, my relationships, my self-confidence, the way I feel about myself when I walk down the street,” he said.

Corinne Pulicay is currently checking copyrights for a textbook  publisher, but that project will be done in a few months. She doesn’t know if she will be able to find a good full-time job with benefits, even after she graduates with an associate’s degree.

“It’s scary,” she said. “I think a new economic system is being born, where you have to sort of fend for yourself economically, you have to hustle and find new avenues of making an income. But you know some people are better at that than others, and what if you’re not one of those people, what happens to you?”

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
October 24, 2013 9:27 PM
Yes, employers win and employees lose. Yes, financial results are first and value creation is second. All business seek efficiency, and at last work force could not be exceptional. These are the destiny of capitalism so that we seem should found the other type of economic system. What is that? I guess business activities should be more regurated for example by federal government to perspect whole nations.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs