Sunday, August 4, 2013


Good morning.
“And the beat goes on.................

There has been a lot of discussion in the media about the jobs situation in America, with many critics pointing out that figures touting job creation are misleading as many, if not most, of the new jobs are really part time temporary jobs.

Indeed, in an article on Associated Press, economics writer Christopher Rugaber points out that:
“From Wal-Mart to General Motors to PepsiCo, companies are increasingly turning to temps and to a much larger universe of freelancers, contract workers and consultants. Combined, these workers number nearly 17 million people who have only tenuous ties to the companies that pay them — about 12 percent of everyone with a job. 
The number of temps has jumped more than 50 percent since the recession ended four years ago to nearly 2.7 million — the most on government records dating to 1990. 
Driving the trend are lingering uncertainty about the economy and employers' desire for more flexibility in matching their payrolls to their revenue. Some employers have also sought to sidestep the new health care law's rule that they provide medical coverage for permanent workers. Last week, though, the Obama administration delayed that provision of the law for a year. 
The use of temps has extended into sectors that seldom used them in the past — professional services, for example, which include lawyers, doctors and information technology specialists. 
Temps typically receive low pay, few benefits and scant job security. That makes them less likely to spend freely, so temp jobs don't tend to boost the economy the way permanent jobs do. More temps and contract workers also help explain why pay has barely outpaced inflation since the recession ended.”
I wonder to what extent, if any, this trend is already, or will in the future, affect the nonprofit arts sector.   And, to the extent it does impact us, it that a good thing or a bad thing?

Of course, there have always been temporary jobs in our field. Artists, for example, at dance companies, theater groups, symphonies and more have for a long time been (at many organizations) part time employees.  While the situation is improving, there are still many places that cannot afford to provide working artists with full time employment, let alone health or other benefits.  There is a long legacy of artists having to hold more than one job.

The phenomenon may be less pronounced on the administrative side, but many organizations have simply never filled positions at all that they would like to have filled.  I don’t know of very many arts organizations that wouldn’t dearly love to have another development, or marketing, or even clerical position, but have no funds to support another hire. In many organizations, one person still wears multiple hats and does work across job descriptions.  And we have long used interns - paid and unpaid - to carry some of our work load.

Theoretically, as the boomers retire, lots of jobs will open up.  But, of course, economic uncertainty has postponed a lot of those retirement plans, especially for those that never had any retirement accounts or income sufficient to allow for savings accounts to grow.  As in other sectors, boomers in the arts are postponing retirement and working longer, leaving fewer openings for those coming up.

If the wider societal reality (and it is a reality) of increasing part time, temporary work is a long term trend, (and according to the above article many economists do think this will now be a permanent situation),
“An Associated Press survey of 37 economists in May found that three-quarters thought the increased use of temps and contract workers represented a long-standing trend.”
then how this will eventually play out for us (if at all), is an interesting question.

Robert Reich, in his blog, suggests that the conservative Republican wing wants to keep job growth anemic so as to keep wages low and thus corporate profits high, fueling a continuing bull market and keeping wage earners fearful over the economy and thus supportive of the wealthy as job creators.  He argues that these are essentially "big lies" as the real job creators are consumers, and that taxes on the wealthy fuel growth and that even the rich will benefit more from a healthy economy than from tax breaks.  Others argue that the Fed's buying bonds has not spurred increased lending by banks - at least not to small businesses.

One might argue that for arts organizations, hiring temporary free lancers and consultants might be a viable way to get qualified people to pick up some slack and provide our organizations with people to do necessary work - allowing for flexibility at affordable prices. Temporary workers are often paid less. Not ideal for our workers by any means, but perhaps a boon to administrators who can’t yet get full time jobs, and for new entry level people for whom there aren’t any openings into the work force at all, as well as a way for organizations to get the work done.

So some of the questions are: Whether or not this is a viable business strategy for our organizations?  Is it heresy to suggest that moving towards increased temporary workers ought to be a business strategy for our consideration?  Are the costs to our people too great so as to outweigh the benefits.  Or may there actually be a benefit in at least providing some work, while increasing our business productivity?  Would such a strategy actually increase our productivity or hinder it?  What are the strengths of such a strategy, and what are the weaknesses?  How might it help, how might it backfire and hurt us?  Not easy questions, and we could use a lot more data on how the trend is playing out in the arts, if at all.

Of course, the meta trend of temporary workers (if indeed it turns out to be a meta trend) ultimately impacts the whole of the economy, as temporary workers who are paid less have less disposable income to pump into the economy - and that arguably includes spending on leisure time pursuits such as the arts and entertainment.

I don’t know if this trend has yet had a significant impact on us (or ever will), but I think it would be helpful to explore it some.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.