Susan Houseman coauthors alternative work arrangements report for Labor Department

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The U.S. Department of Labor tapped Susan Houseman, Upjohn Institute vice president and director of research, and Katharine Abraham, of the University of Maryland, to gain insight into contingent and alternative work arrangements. Abraham and Houseman have produced two papers, both now available, that supplement our knowledge of work arrangements such as independent contracting—including platform or "gig" work—contract company work and jobs with unpredictable schedules.

Since 1995, the federal government periodically has fielded a survey, called the Contingent Worker Supplement to the Current Population Survey, which is aimed at measuring nonstandard work arrangements. The first paper examines lessons from more than two decades of data generated by this survey. However, the survey only asks about workers’ main jobs and is incomplete in its coverage of nonstandard arrangements. In their second paper, Abraham and Houseman fold in insights from other household surveys, employer surveys, and administrative records about trends in alternative work arrangements, the characteristics of workers in these arrangements and the implications of these arrangements for workers. They point to discrepancies across data sources measuring alternative work arrangements, explore the resaons for these differences and discuss ways to improve tracking of nonstandard work in government statistics.

Among their findings:

  • People who have lost jobs, are unemployed, or are out of the workforce but want employment often end up in contingent and alternative work arrangements.
  • Dissatisfaction with some arrangements is relatively high and subsequent employment rates are relatively low, which raises concerns about their use as stepping stones to regular employment.
  • Independent contractors represented the most common alternative work arrangement measured in the Contingent Worker Supplement, but the survey may underestimate this type of work.
  • Unpredictable work arrangements are more common than the Contingent Worker Supplement indicates, especially among disadvantaged populations.
  • There has been a significant increase since 2005 in the use of temporary help workers in manufacturing and in production and transportation and material moving occupations.
  • Temporary help jobs are disproportionately held by those without a college degree, minorities and youth. On-call jobs are disproportionately held by those with less formal education.

The papers are titled:
Contingent and Alternative Employment: Lessons from the Contingent Worker Supplement, 1995-2017.”
What Do We Know about Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States? A Synthesis of Research Evidence from Household Surveys, Employer Surveys, and Administrative Data

Both are available for free download here and at the Labor Department's Contingent Work Paper Series.

Houseman is a co-director of the Upjohn Institute initiative Outsourcing: Impacts on the U.S. Workforce. Abraham is a member of that initiative’s Research Network on Outsourcing.


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Susan N. Houseman

Senior Economist

Research Topics: Employment Relationships