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Temporary Work, Permanent Stigma

Casey Klinberger worked as a temp for 18 months before he decided to start his own business with a $25,000 loan from a well-to-do uncle. Making his business profitable while planning for paying back the loan in two years is stressful, Klinberger said, but not as stressful as being a temp.

“It was the pits,” said Klinberger, 26. “You are forever a second-class citizen in the corporate world.”

A college graduate with a business degree, Klinberger decided to temp while looking for a job. The counselor at the temp agency seemed to like him, and his various temp assignments had him supervising a mail room, running computer business forecasts, writing public relations copy, assisting with a nonprofit fund-raising drive and assisting a vice president and two CEOs. All for pay well below what a permanent worker would get.

“I know it makes business sense. Heck, what a deal,” he said. “But when do they start realizing that without good jobs, Americans aren’t going to be able to afford the goods and services these companies want to sell?”

And although some people do it, he didn’t see his temporary assignments turning into the kind of permanent title he sought. Why? The image problem. “Everyone assumes that because you come out of the temp agency, you aren’t good enough to get a full-time job,” he said. “Then, when they see you know your stuff and are aggressive, they’re intimidated by you and think you’re after their job.”

His assessment of temporary employment flies in the face of a recent Fortune magazine article titled “The Temp Biz Boom: Why It’s Good.”

Of course, the article’s focus was to count all the ways such workers make sound business sense. But where worker issues are concerned, Fortune weighed each negative as the glass half full.

On benefits, for instance, Fortune wrote, “There’s always the issue of benefits, which are relatively rare in contingent jobs. But even temps are getting some benefits these days.” The story failed to look at or quantify the greater percentage of temp agencies that offer few benefits, if any at all.

Crummy benefits, said Shelley Warren, a 32-year-old office management temp, is the main reason more than 60 percent of temps wish they had a permanent job.

The issue of benefits, she said, is extremely divisive in offices where permanent and temporary workers toil side by side.

Of all the groups doing temporary work, students trying to break into the job market for the first time seem the most bitter. Many say the trend toward hiring more temps and fewer permanent workers has negatively influenced their job prospects.

“I just want a job, but a real job,” said Tara Bruner, a 27-year-old finance major. “Something I can grow with like my parents did; something with a future. Is that asking too much?”

It may be in a world of corporate downsizing where entry-level jobs are going to the lowest bidder. Among those offering workers for cheap, the temporary industry is booming.

While the number of temporary workers in America hovered at about 1 million four years ago, according to one national association, that number has more than doubled since. Today, an estimated 2.2 million people are working as temps, the association said.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau found even more such workers when they defined them as “individuals who do not perceive themselves as having an explicit or implicit contract for ongoing employment.” Those Americans number as many as 6 million, census statistics show.

One of the fastest-growing segments of the temporary industry is in professional and technical fields where white-collar temporary workers are now filling lifers’ shoes. Businesses use such workers for a variety of short-term jobs from revving up a corporate culture with fresh ideas to completing nasty jobs no one else wants, like shaking up a department or implementing layoffs.

Yet on many levels, the temp trend is nothing more than a way to avoid corporate commitment to workers, such as offering benefits and providing worker stability. Any way you look at it, these realities erode the ability of working Americans to take care of their families.

I guess it all comes down to which spin doctor says what. Now there’s a job classification that’s sure to see plenty of future growth.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Diana Griego Erwin McClatchy News Service

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