Is the U.S. Turning Into a Nation of Temps? Depends on Where You Live

Temporary employment accounted for 15 percent of the nation's job growth over the past four years, but some metro areas are worse off than others.

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Worrying over our anemic job creation rate has practically become America's new national pastime since the economic crisis of 2008. While corporate profits have soared, and stock and housing markets have bounced back, we are still faced with a largely jobless recovery. What's worse, a large percentage of the few jobs we've actually managed to create are low-wage, low-skill service jobs, a poor substitute for the higher-wage, mid-skill manufacturing jobs of yore.

New research and analysis by the economic and employment data firm EMSI adds an important new wrinkle to the story. Turns out a substantial share of the jobs created in the United States since the beginning of the recession have actually been temp jobs — not just low-wage and low-skill, but low-wage, low-skill, and temporary. EMSI estimates that there are 765,000 more temp jobs today than there were in 2009. Temp jobs, which make up just two percent of the nation's workforce, have accounted for 15 percent of all job growth over the past four years.

Our new dependence on temp jobs is much greater in some metro areas than others. The table below, based on EMSI data, shows the 10 large metros (those with more than one million people) where temp jobs have made up the largest share and smallest share of total employment growth since 2009.

Large Metros with Where Temp Jobs Make Up
the Largest and Smallest Shares of Job Gains, 2009-2013
Metros with the Largest Increases Percent of all job growth
(2009-2013)
Memphis, Tennessee-Mississippi-Arkansas* 116%
Birmingham-Hoover, Alabama 66%
Cincinnati-Middletown, Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana 65%
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Connecticut 58%
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin 51%
Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas 46%
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio 44%
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware 41%
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin 40%
Tucson, Arizona 37%
 
Metros with Smallest Increases Percent of all job growth
(2009-2013)
Washington, D.C. 2%
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 3%
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, California 4%
Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, Texas 5%
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California 6%
Salt Lake City, Utah 6%
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York 6%
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, California 6%
San Antonio-New Braunfels, Texas 7%
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington 7%

 

Temp jobs accounted for whopping 116 percent of job growth in Memphis (that means that one sector added more jobs than all other industries together), 66 percent in Birmingham, 65 percent in Cincinnati, 58 percent in Hartford, 51 percent in Milwaukee, 46 percent in Kansas City, and 40 percent or more in Cleveland, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Conversely, temp jobs made up just two percent of total job growth in Greater Washington, D.C., three percent in Oklahoma City, four percent in San Francisco, five percent in Austin, and six percent in Riverside, Salt Lake City, Buffalo, and San Diego. Temp jobs make up seven percent of growth in San Antonio and Seattle, and eight percent in Houston and San Jose. These are all metro economies that have performed well overall since the recession.

As Rob Sentz of EMSI points out in an email, "In years past we'd see temp growth then full time growth. This go-round the stronger cities are not going the route of temp employment. The weaker cities are seeing more temp employment that is not converting to full time."

Top image: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com

*Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the states in the Memphis metro.

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here