LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Want to feel a little bit better about the economy? There is one part of the job market that is doing well: Temporary work. In fact, the temping industry has recovered much of the ground it lost during the recession. Companies are keeping their temps longer, even using them to fill high-ranking positions.
As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, the increased reliance on short-term workers may not be temporary.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: TaShea Mosley is a financially mature 23. She owns a house in Atlanta and is helping raise her sister's child. But she struck out trying to find a full-time position. So earlier this year, she started temping as an administrative assistant through Manpower.
TASHEA MOSLEY: The only thing that really differentiates me from anyone is that my badge is different.
MOSLEY: But they treat me as if I am a full-time employee, actually. I just don't have all the benefits of being one.
NOGUCHI: Mosley says she loves her current posting. The company has a hiring freeze, but she's hoping her work will earn her the security of a permanent job.
MOSLEY: When you're a temp, it's more like you're disposable. One day you can have a job and the next day you can't. So it's always kind of like a little bit of a Russian Roulette, you never know if it's going to be your time to go or not.
NOGUCHI: In the past, the road from temp to permanent job was well-travelled. But now, less so. Three years of steady increases in temporary hiring has not led to more robust employment.
JOANIE RUGE: It is clear that companies are using temporary and contract workers and, unfortunately, not making those permanent hires at this point.
NOGUCHI: Joanie Ruge is chief employment analyst for Randstad, an agency that supplies temps to thousands of companies.
RUGE: Because there's still some uncertainty and they're wondering if the economic conditions are sustainable, this offers them some good flexibility.
NOGUCHI: One of the biggest growth areas in temping, Ruge says, is high-skilled work - engineering, information technology, pharmaceuticals, accounting and finance. Professional positions, she says, make up about half of Randstad's business. Companies are hiring temps, even for jobs in the highest ranks.
Ed Schultz, for example, has been acting comptroller or chief financial officer for various companies on a temporary basis.
ED SCHULTZ: I do like it very much, and I've done it for 12 or 13 years.
NOGUCHI: Schultz says during the recession companies thinned out their chief officer ranks - or their C suites.
SCHULTZ: My feeling is that it's a permanent change, it's a sea change that we're certainly seeing more activity in that interim C suite area.
NOGUCHI: He says even as the economy recovers, companies have remained reluctant to commit to a full hire.
Nik Theodore is director of the Center for Urban Economic Development and a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He says, normally, temporary work is very cyclical. It goes up when the economy is good, and down when it's bad.
NIK THEODORE: There's something more happening here and I think temping is becoming a more important feature of employers' workforce strategies and a bigger part of the careers of workers.
NOGUCHI: Theodore says companies may keep things this way, as a way of keeping more of their workers at arm's length - paying them fewer benefits, taking on fewer legal responsibilities, and being able to fire them easily. For workers, Theodore says, that means fewer opportunities to move up.
THEODORE: Those temp jobs often are disconnected from the career pathways and job ladders that exist within a company.
NOGUCHI: But for people like Wendy Patterson, temp work is one of the only pathways back into the workforce. After getting laid off three years ago, she sent as many as 100 resumes a month without getting full-time work. Now, Patterson says she's using her current assignment to apply for a permanent position within the firm.
Are you a little nervous?
WENDY PATTERSON: No, I'm confident.
NOGUCHI: Patterson says she needs the benefits that come with full-time jobs.
PATTERSON: I am a breast cancer survivor so it's important for me to have insurance, so I can have my annual mammograms and my annual check ups.
NOGUCHI: Because she's a temp, Patterson says she's conscious of the impressions she makes.
PATTERSON: I'm at work 15 minutes before I'm supposed to be here, every day.
NOGUCHI: She says it's a lot like being on a job interview, every day. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.