Sunday, August 19, 2012

8-19-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #183 (Working Temp in NYC: Questioning the conscience of the temp employment agency behemoths)

The temporary employment agency business must have grown exponentially from the seventies to the nineties. More and more of them popped up, along with specialty temp firms (“consulting” firms for engineers, architects, graphic artists, even lawyers). At this point, in 2012, I know in the past five years they’ve probably taken a beating due to the recession, but temporary worker agencies remain viable businesses because they’re a practical solution to a hiring problem (“how do we get projects done with a finite beginning and end without using other valuable employee hours?”), or an economic solution to permanent hiring (“how can we get away with not paying any benefits -- and make a big cost savings? -- which means less administrative work as well.”).

And sometimes, in the temp-to-perm world, the companies just want to try out a few potential employees on a probationary basis, and hiring a temp is a safe enough alternative (and somebody else checks out/vets that potential candidate for a permanent job).

As it was, back in the ‘80’s, a lowly office temp like me was paid $15 an hour. The temp agencies charged over $30 to the companies. Knowing the workings of capitalism, I didn’t mind that, so much, but here’s what got to me when I realized it had happened: temp wages froze. Once I got up to the $16 per hour rate in the nineties, it never went higher. Over thirty years, I worked intermittently in the temporary employment field as a high level admin (with a 60 wpm typing speed and thorough knowledge of MS Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and not gotten an hourly wage above $16 p.h.

That meant: no raise, ever. It also meant that wages didn’t keep in line with cost of living increases. . . So, rents would rise along with the price of milk, bread, cereal, fruit, meat etc.-- and the $16 per hour wage would remain. I don’t know how anybody could keep living that way, paying bills and trying to save for a home, a car, a baby, a rainy day. . . not even thinking about saving for retirement on a temp’s salary!

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