Just over six years ago, in December of 2010, we wrote “Charting America’s Transformation To A Part-Time Worker Society“, in which we predicted – and showed – that in light of the underlying changes resulting from the second great depression, whose full impacts remain masked by trillions in monetary stimulus and soon, perhaps fiscal, America is shifting from a traditional work force, one where the majority of new employment is retained on a full-time basis, to a “gig” economy, where workers are severely disenfranchised, and enjoy far less employment leverage, job stability and perks than their pre-crash peers. It also explains why despite the 4.5% unemployment rate, which the Fed has erroneously assumed is indicative of job market at “capacity”, wage growth not only refuses to materialize, but as we showed yesterday, the growth in real disposable personal income was the lowest since 2014.
When we first penned our article, it was dubbed “fringe” tinfoil hattery, or in the latest vernacular, “fake news.”
Fast forward 6 years, when a report by Harvard and Princeton economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger, confirms exactly what we warned. In their study, the duo show that from 2005 to 2015, the proportion of Americans workers engaged in what they refer to as “alternative work” soared during the Obama era, from 10.7% in 2005 to 15.8% in 2015. Alternative, or “gig” work is defined as “temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract company workers, independent contractors or freelancers”, and is generally unsteady, without a fixed paycheck and with virtually no benefits.
The two economists also found that each of the common types of alternative work increased from 2005 to 2015—with the largest changes in the number of independent contractors and workers provided by contract firms, such as janitors that work full-time at a particular office, but are paid by a janitorial services firm.
Krueger, who until 2013 was also the top White House economist serving as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Obama, was “surprised” by the finding.
Quoted by quartz, he said “We find that 94% of net job growth in the past decade was in the alternative work category,” said Krueger. “And over 60% was due to the [the rise] of independent contractors, freelancers and contract company workers.” In other words, nearly all of the 10 million jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were not traditional nine-to-five employment.
While the finding is good news for some, such as graphic designers and lawyers who hate going to an office, for whom new technology and Obamacare has made it more appealing to become an independent contractor. But for those seeking a steady administrative assistant office job, the market is grim. It also explains why despite an apparent recovery in the labor market, wage growth has been non-existant, due to the lack of career advancement and salary increase options for this vast cohort which was hired over the past decade.
The decline of conventional full-time work has impacted every demographic. Whether this change is good or bad depends on what kinds of jobs people want. “Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,” said Krueger. He then added, perhaps sarcastically, that “while many of those who value flexibility and have a spouse with a steady job have probably gained.”
Yes, well, spousal support aside, it also confirms another troubling finding this website reported first earlier this month, namely that the number of multiple jobholders has recently hit the highest number this century.
Not surprisingly, the study found that young workers represented the largest growth of contractors who frequently do not receive any kind of benefits, even when they are working full-time. The issue is particularly frustrating to employees in the entertainment industry where media conglomerates rely on freelancers for long periods of time without offering benefits, an arrangement frequently referred to as “permalance.”
None of these “qualitative” aspects, however, matter to the outgoing president, who believes his administration was a net positive for workers.
“Since I signed Obamacare into law (in 2010), our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs,” said Obama, during his farewell press conference last Friday.
He did not delve into the details of just what those 15 million new jobs were. Now we know; and we also know why the Fed is making a huge mistake in thinking it can hike rates and tighten financial conditions, to reverse engineer wage growth, when corporations are guaranteed to not increase wages even in response to higher rates, as the data above confirms that the amount of slack in the economy is vastly greater than virtually all economists are willing to admit.
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