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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More