Poverty looms for many temps in California
August 28, 2012
• Lower pay, fewer get benefits
• ‘Contingent workers rely more on the state safety net’
California’s temporary workers are twice as likely as other employees to live in poverty, get food stamps and be on Medicaid, according to a report Tuesday from the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.
Temporary workers are found in blue-collar positions such as landscaping, housekeeping or data entry jobs, but also in white-collar worlds such as nursing, accounting and computer programming, the report notes.
These threats of diminished circumstances and eroded wages apply to nearly a quarter-million California workers in the temporary help industry, and another 37,000 people working for employee leasing/employment services firms, the report says.
Starting with pay, the outlook for these workers is dimmer than for others, according to Dietz. She estimated that, in 2010, the median hourly wages were $13.72 for temporary workers and $19.72 for other California workers.
Once a worker’s age, race, gender and levels of education and English proficiency are taken into account, temporary workers still make about 18 percent less an hour than their non-temporary counterparts, with an even bigger gap for blue-collar temp workers in fields such as transportation and production, the report says.
“These lowered wages mean that contingent workers rely more on the state safety net,” says author Miranda Dietz, a research data analyst for the Center for Labor Research and Education, in the report.
Reliance of temp workers on state aid exacerbates already serious state budget problems, and negatively affects wages for similar, non-temporary jobs while undermining existing provisions protecting workers, she argues.
Suggested solutions generally range from raising the minimum wage and providing medical leave to these workers, but the report notes additional ideas. They include:
• Increasing enforcement of employment regulations that protect workers,
• Expanding employment liability for regulation enforcement to include not just the staffing agencies but also the companies that use temporary workers, and
• Assigning responsibility to enforce worker protections to the entity best able to deter safety violations.
“California is not alone in its struggle with the problems of contingent and temporary work,” says Ms. Dietz. “But ... we must consider what is needed to provide both a vibrant economy and decent conditions for those who create it.”