Sunday, December 06, 2009

Temporary Help

by Bill McBride on 12/06/2009 09:12:00 AM

Tom Abate writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: In economic woes, firms count on temp workers

A surge in temporary employment was one of the encouraging aspects of a Labor Department report issued Friday.
Temporary Help Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows temporary help services (seasonally adjusted) and the unemployment rate. Unfortunately the data on temporary help services only goes back to 1990, but it does appear temporary help and the unemployment rate have been inversely correlated.

The thinking is that before companies hire permanent employees following a recession, employers will first increase the hours worked of current employees and also hire temporary employees. Since the number of temporary workers increased sharply, some people think this might be signaling the beginning of an employment recovery.

Tom Abate adds some caution:
BLS economist Amar Mann said an analysis by the San Francisco office suggests that employers are getting more sophisticated about using temp hiring as a clutch to downshift into recessions and upshift into recoveries.

Mann said temp jobs started down a month after overall employment dropped during the 1990-91 recession. But by the 2001 downturn, employers started cutting temps about five months before they started issuing pink slips to the general workforce.

In the current recession, he said, companies began shedding temps 12 months before they started cutting permanent payrolls.

A similar pattern prevailed in the two prior recoveries, Mann said. Temp jobs came back at the same time as overall employment after the 1991 recovery. Temporary employment rebounded five months before the general job market turned positive following the 2001 dip.

If that pattern holds, it could be next summer before general payrolls start to grow.

Mann refused to speculate about the timing, but said temps are playing an increasing role in the job cycle.

"Employers are getting more savvy about using just-in-time labor on the way down and on the way up," he said.
So use the increase in temporary help with caution.

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