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March, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 3
Contingent work in the late-1990sSteven Hipple
In February 1999, 5.6 million workers held contingent jobs, that is, jobs that are structured to be short term or temporary. The contingency rate—the proportion of total employment composed of contingent workers—was 4.3 percent.1 Both the number of contingent workers and the contingency rate were virtually the same as those in the 1997 survey. The fact that both the number of individuals with contingent jobs and the contingency rate were little different is interesting, because the period covered by the two surveys was one of strong labor market conditions. For example, total employment grew by 4.8 million over the two periods, and the unemployment rate—at 5.3 percent in February 1997—had fallen to 4.4 percent in February 1999.2 (See chart 1.)
This article discusses the results of the February 1999 Contingent and Alternative Work Arrangements Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS), including an examination of the characteristics of contingent workers and the jobs they hold, and their earnings and employee benefits.3 Information on contingent work was first collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in February 1995, and when the results of that survey were published, three alternative measures of contingent work were introduced.4 (See the appendix.) The analysis in this article focuses on the broadest measure of contingent work—estimate 3. Noncontingent workers, employed individuals who do not fall under any of the estimates of contingent work, are used as a point of comparison.
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1 Contingency rates are calculated by dividing the number of contingent workers in a specified worker group by total employment for the same worker group.
2 Data on employment and unemployment are derived from the Current Population Survey (CPS), 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 civilian population aged 16 years and older.
3 Special supplements to the CPS are routinely added to obtain information on a wide range of topics including, for example, income and work experience, displaced workers, employee tenure and occupational mobility, employment status of veterans, work schedules, home-based work, and school enrollment.
4 For more information on the concepts and definitions of contingent work, see Anne E. Polivka, "Contingent and alternative work arrangements, defined," Monthly Labor Review, October 1996, pp. 3–9.
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