Contract Jobs Are The New Normal: NPR/Marist Poll The new poll finds that while jobs are plentiful, they are increasingly unstable, provide fewer benefits, and offer uneven pay from month to month.
NPR logo Contract Jobs Are The New Normal: NPR/Marist Poll

Contract Jobs Are The New Normal: NPR/Marist Poll

The Orrick law firm's modern operations, using artificial intelligence and contract lawyers, are located in an old-metal stamping factory in Wheeling, W.Va. Photo by JC Sullivan hide caption

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Photo by JC Sullivan

The Orrick law firm's modern operations, using artificial intelligence and contract lawyers, are located in an old-metal stamping factory in Wheeling, W.Va.

Photo by JC Sullivan

January 22, 2017; Washington, D.C. - The U.S. economy is posting solid growth and the stock market is booming. The unemployment rate is approaching historic lows. And yet many in the American workforce are not seeing the benefits of it, according to a new NPR/Marist Poll. The new poll finds that while jobs are plentiful, they are increasingly unstable for many Americans who say they receive fewer benefits, work with less permanency, and earn uneven pay from month to month.

Read more from NPR here: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/22/578825135/rise-of-the-contract-workers-work-is-different-now

Key Findings:

  • 20% of all American workers are contract workers (Those who are hired to work on a specific project or for a fixed period of time.)
  • 51% of contract workers don't receive benefits from their jobs.
  • 49% of contract workers have income that varies greatly from month to month or seasonally.
  • 65% of contract workers are male and 62% are under 45 years of age.

"We are seeing the rise of the contract workers taking hold in America. People are hired to work on projects for a fixed period. They bounce from job to job, never earning the title of employee. And this fuels great unpredictability," says NPR's chief business editor Pallavi Gogoi. "Jobs are available. But many of them lack benefits, stable income and security – things that were once the bedrock of a middle-class life."

The results of the poll reveal the structure of work is changing, and that stands to have long-term effects on society.

"What we are seeing is the beginning of a new workforce and a new way of defining how we work. It's not full time or part time. We can call it new time," said Barbara Carvalho, Director of the Marist Poll at the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "Our understanding of how we work and live is changing in front of us and there isn't an appropriate terminology to describe this workforce."

NPR will be examining the shifting nature of American jobs and the repercussions in a week-long series, starting January 22.

The poll surveyed 1,267 adults in the U.S. from December 4 – December 7, 2017, and was produced in partnership by NPR and The Marist Poll.

Based on this NPR/Marist poll, here is a picture of American jobs:

Overall workforce:

The overall American workforce (63%) — defined as those who are employed full-time or part-time and those who are self-employed — is comprised mainly of full-time workers (80%). Two-thirds of workers in the United States (66%) have health care or retirement benefits, a majority (56%) received a raise in the last year, and 66% report their personal income does not fluctuate from month to month or seasonally. More than six in ten (61%) have a household income of at least $50,000 annually, and a majority of American workers (55%) do not have a college degree. More than three in ten American workers (32%) overall have changed jobs in the past two years.

Contract workers:

One in five (20%) identify themselves as contract workers. They are overwhelmingly (65%) male and many (62%) are under the age of 45 or between the ages of 18-44. Contract workers are three times more likely to work full-time (76%) than to work part-time (24%). However, 40% of contract workers with a full-time job say they do something else for pay. Close to half (49%) say their income changes month to month or seasonally. They are equally as likely to have received a raise in the last year (50%) than to have not (50%).

Part time workers:

Nearly two-thirds of part-time workers (65%) labor without benefits, and a majority of part-timers (54%) have not received a raise in the last year. Though, 64% report their monthly salary remains the same from month to month. A majority of part-time workers (56%) earn less than $50,000 a year, and most (76%) do not have a college degree. A vast majority, or three in four (75%) say they have had a full-time job at some point. But, these workers are not necessarily working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment. In fact, two in three part-time workers (66%) prefer this type of schedule. 34%, though, are looking for full-time work.

Benefits:

In addition to their base earnings, 66% of all workers have at least one of the following benefits: health insurance (59%), a retirement plan (53%), or a pension (27%). 74% of the full-time workforce (including those who are self-employed) receive either health or retirement benefits, but a notable 26% work without them.

A majority (65%) of part time workers and a little more than half (51%) of contract workers work without benefits.

Most workers are earning more:

A majority of American workers (56%) say they received a raise in the last year, including workers who changed jobs to earn an increase in pay. Again, workers' employment situations make a difference. Full-time workers (58%) are more likely than part-time workers (46%) to have received a raise. Workers who receive benefits (65%) are also more likely to have been given a pay increase than those without benefits (37%). And, workers who have the same monthly salary (60%) are more likely than those who have fluctuating pay (48%) to have received a raise.

American workers received an average pay increase of 4.5 percent. This includes workers who found a new job which paid more. Workers under 30 years old (an average 6.4 percent raise) and those in the Northeast (an average 5.7 percent raise) have seen the largest pay increases. 15% earned a raise of ten percent or more. 12% added between 5% and 10% to their income while 4% received less than a 2% increase.

44% of workers did not receive a raise in the past year.

Americans are optimistic and aren't afraid of losing their jobs:

Workers in the United States who are not self-employed say they are valued by their employer. 90% of these workers think their employer values the work they do. More than eight in 10 American workers (84%) are not worried that they will lose their job in the next year although one-quarter of contract workers are concerned (25%).

Most American workers do not feel their job is potentially threatened by outside factors. Most say it is not very likely or not likely at all that they will lose their job due to automation (94%), immigrants or foreign workers (94%), or to outsourcing (94%).

Most Americans don't want to relocate for a job:

On the question of relocation, a majority of workers (54%) think it would be difficult to relocate for a better job. Many of those who are 45 or older (61%), and 53% of those between the ages of 30 and 44, say it would be hard for them to relocate for a better job.

One in five (20%) say they have relocated at least once in the past five years to keep their job or take another one. 27% of workers under the age of 45 have moved in the past five years for employment purposes. This compares with only 10% of older workers.

The survey of 1,267 adults was conducted December 4-7, 2017, by the Marist Poll sponsored in collaboration with NPR. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were contacted on mobile or landline numbers in English by telephone using live interviewers. The results are statistically significant at ±2.8 percentage points.

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