The New Job Market: Temporary Jobs and Freelancers

One of the challenges facing many job-seekers is the fact that the job market has changed quite a bit in recent years.

The recession that accompanied the recent financial crisis led to a rise in temporary jobs and freelancing jobs.

However, these are no longer jobs that people do to “get by” until they find something a little more permanent.  Indications are that these are becoming the permanent jobs.

Temporary Jobs and Freelancing are the New Job Market

Staffing Jobs on the Rise

The American Staffing Association releases data from a quarterly survey about trends in the workplace.  For the third quarter of 2012, there was a year over year increase of 4.3% in staffing jobs.  The latest data represent the 11th consecutive quarter that staffing jobs have grown since 2009 and the technical end of the recession.

Temporary positions are on the rise, in part, because freelancers, temps, and adjuncts cost a lot less than full-time regular workers.

A few years ago, CNN Money wrote a story about how someone getting paid $14 an hour by an employer can actually cost $20 an hour.

This is because more traditional employees come with a host of additional costs:

  • Business_suit_interviewHealth care
  • Other benefits (group life insurance, daycare, etc.)
  • Overhead for a permanent workstation
  • Administration and paperwork costs
  • Payroll taxes
  • Training

Temporary workers don’t come with many of those costs.

Freelancers are also extremely inexpensive, since you don’t even have to provide a temporary workstation for someone who works off-site.

On top of that, there aren’t the legal hassles and workers’ rights issues with temporary workers and freelancers.  Businesses don’t have to worry about union organizing with temporary workers, and if they can’t find one freelancer to work for a very small sum, there is no shortage of freelancers willing to work for peanuts.

Because we associate so many benefits and perks with traditional jobs, many companies are shying away from making more permanent hires.  They don’t have to worry about government paperwork.  And, when it comes time to cut back on the help, there is no worry about how to fire someone legally; the temp just gets sent back to the agency.

Realities of the New Job Market

For workers, these realities are a little more daunting.

While business owners can use temporary workers and freelancers to reduce their costs, workers find themselves less able to control their work situations.

I can’t really complain; the new job market has been fairly good to me.  My business as a freelancer provides me with opportunities to take advantage of an environment in which companies just want someone to perform a specific task and then move on. Plus, there are a whole host of tax deductions I can take as a home business owner.

Not everyone sees the same benefits, though.

My husband is in the frustrating position of finding that many jobs teaching at colleges are adjunct and guest lecturer positions.  While there are some permanent and tenure-track positions out there, adjuncts seem to be in higher demand — at least in his field.  This is due to many of the same reasons that businesses like to hire temporary workers.  My husband doesn’t get benefits, and they don’t have to pay him a salary.  Instead, he is paid per-class, even though they expect him to work with students and other instructors send students to him for help.  He does about the same amount of work as a full-time assistant professor, but he is only paid about 1/3 of the amount.

It’s a good deal for the university, which has passed him over twice for a full-time position.  In fact, they haven’t filled the position, even though it’s been open for two years. They just give the classes to my husband, and keep paying him less.

For many unemployed workers, the new reality is that it makes more sense to sign up with a temp agency than to spend hours and hours looking for a more permanent situation.  At the very least, sign up for temporary work or do some freelancing on the side while you look for a job.

However, you might be better off starting your own business, or looking for some other way to make money on the side.

The job with the full benefits and good pay may not be coming back.

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Published or updated May 8, 2013.


  1. Something tells me that the trend will continue to get worse once Obamacare kicks in as companies over 50 employees need to offer health benefits to employees working over 30 hours. I read a post on someone else’s blog yesterday about the 29 1/2 hour work week due to this. It is a way employers will try to get out of dealing with the Obamacare restrictions.

  2. I think companies are very, very wary about taking on more employees now even if they are doing well. It’s generally okay for a family if ONE spouse has a job with benefits and the other freelances, but when both are self-employed, things like medical insurance become much more difficult and expensive.

    • Glen Craig says:

      It really is. But there’s another interesting aspect to Obamacare – will it make it any easier for freelancers to get healthcare? Will there potentially be more innovation because people won’t be trapped in their jobs for healthcare?

  3. From the employer’s side, it makes a lot of sense! Why hire someone until they see sustained demand? There is pressure to keep their costs down. Employees are doing more than one job to keep costs down. It is a great way for the employer to find out more about the candidate.

  4. Good post! I wrote about the same basic thing several weeks ago and I would agree that it is moving more so this way. I think it’s a combination of employers moving away from the traditional model as well as a generational aspect. We run our own business and love it because of the freedom it gives us, which can’t be found in a corporate setting.

  5. According to Gallup, in 2013, 20.6% of the entire U.S. workforce consists of part-time workers; in 2010 it was 19.1%. What’s more, the job creation rate since the recession of 2008-2009 began is negative 3.4% per the Heritage Foundation. Moreover, many recoveries prior to the last recession have had job growth in the double digits. So scarcity of jobs relative to the working age population is also a problem in addition to businesses restructuring their human resources to avoid regulation related costs.

    • Glen Craig says:

      Interesting stats. Only time will tell as to what the history book swill write about the Great Recession and what happened after.

      I think we’re getting to where people need to create their own jobs and demand for those jobs. I know that’s not exactly practical for many people but I think you’ll see more people innovate in this way, especially as media rapidly changes.

  6. Interesting consideration of adjunct roles in education. I wasn’t aware of how the schools seem to push for these, but it makes sense given the benefits/cost of tenure. Great post.

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