According to the stats,
“Some 7 percent of workers nationally find themselves below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”–Connecticut Post
While I wasn’t below the federal poverty line–due to my constant effort to find freelance and part-time gigs–I was definitely toeing it. After my last experience, I avoided temp agencies for a long time, choosing to find my own low-paying jobs without giving 30-50% of my wages to a bunch of bloodsuckers. But, after finding myself stuck in between a dead-end job and sporadic adjunct teaching this year, I was lured again to the muddy bottom with promises of stimulating, well-paying jobs that (of course!) would want to hire me on permanently. Because when an employer is seeking a permanent employee, the first thing they think is, “Why don’t I go through a TEMP agency?”
So here I am again. This time I signed on with 3 temp agencies, determined to give myself options. I got a couple of interviews (1 for a company whose raison d’etre is to do IT support for Walmart. Not my cup of tea) and, 2 months ago, took a position part-time with a non-profit.
My contact at the temp agency insinuated that this company would let me write their newsletter, that I wouldn’t “just be doing admin work,” and that the organization would have a full-time position opening up soon.
Somewhat skeptically, I began working at the non-profit 5 days a week, keeping my retail job on the weekends. Unlike the temp agency in New York City, this agency’s non-compete clause is only 3 months long. Still, the position pays low wages, there aren’t any full-time jobs opening up that fit my skill set, and I don’t get to write the newsletter. I mostly do boring admin work. And, simply for processing payroll and mailing me a check, the temp agency takes 30% of my paycheck. While this isn’t advantageous to me, it can be to the company hiring the temp:
“This industry of middlemen provides huge savings for […] companies. That’s because the payroll taxes that businesses cough up for unemployment insurance can range widely depending on how often an employer lays people off. The government doesn’t factor in temps, so [staffing agencies] take the tax hit, letting Amazon base its rates only on the 90,000 permanent staff….”–Bloomberg.com
Does the non-profit care how much of a cut the temp agency gets? Probably not. They’re more concerned with paying a little more in the short term to avoid the headache of a true employee. The deal obviously benefits the temp agency–this is their bread and butter. Then there’s me, puttering away at the front desk every day, barely making ends meet. At staff meetings, I get to hear about the raises the full-time permanent employees are getting and how many paid holidays they enjoy. I’m not sure if my coworkers know how different my experience–and pay–is.
Almost anyone who has job searched in recent years knows where to look–the Internet. There’s Monster.com, Idealist.org, Indeed.com, LinkedIn, and even Craigslist. In the online age–particularly with a recession–temp agencies should be obsolete. Instead they’re proliferating at a frightening pace:
“…the problem is growing as they [temps] account for 2.1 percent of the U.S. workforce—an all-time high, according to the Department of Labor. Companies…“are institutionalizing a permanent tier of temporary workers…’” —Bloomberg.com
What’s the answer? Is there an answer? This problem affects workers from behemoth retailers to tiny non-profits. While I’d like to think that an organization focused on bettering society wouldn’t leave an employee teetering on the verge of poverty–with my hours cut during the holidays, I was eligible for MediCaid–the temporary worker virus is infecting businesses workforce-wide. I suppose we could start with boycotting. If workers refused to give a huge sum of their paycheck to staffing agencies, they’d cease to exist. After this last stint as a “variable cost” to help “improve operating margins,” I’m done being a disposable worker.