Temporary jobs are becoming a permanent fixture in Maine’s employment picture, a trend that could slow down the already sluggish recovery and alter the way we think about work.

The number of jobs obtained through temporary staffing agencies in Maine grew 31 percent between the start of 2007 and the end of last year.

These were not just jobs in what we think of as temporary, seasonal work, in road construction or amusement parks, but also in year-round businesses, like Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook, which uses temporary staffing to ride out the busy times of the year.

Proponents of temporary hiring say it gives workers a chance to gain experience in a variety of settings and gives employers flexibility.

Bob Bahramipour, CEO of Gigwalk, a national agency that posts odd jobs, explained it to Fox News this way: “You can hire 10,000 people for 10 to 15 minutes. When they’re done, those 10,000 people just melt away.”

That would be fine if it were true. But, of course, those people don’t “just melt away.” They still need food and housing, and they still need to see a doctor when they get sick.

Temporary jobs usually pay less than permanent jobs and rarely come with benefits like paid sick time or health insurance. People who fill temporary jobs don’t have the financial security to take out a car loan or a mortgage, so these jobs don’t have the same positive impact on the economy that permanent hiring does.

Hiring temporary workers contributes to wage stagnation, which itself is a drag on the economy. A study by the International Monetary Fund found that the greater the number of a country’s employers that hire on temporary contracts, the higher the level of income inequality.

Nationally, the temporary employment trend has been seen beyond low-wage, low-skilled fields. Employment researchers are also seeing temps hired to deliver professional services, like temporary doctors, lawyers and information technology specialists.

What will it mean in the future when employees, especially young ones, get used to having no real relationship with the company they are working for? What will it mean when employers feel no particular responsibility for the people who work for them?

If this is how the structure of the workforce is going to change, other things — like our conception of what it means to be employed — will have to change with it.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.