21. Temporary Workers in Construction and Other Industries
Temporary workers (see Glossary), as a proportion of the U.S. workforce, have been increasing over the last decade. In 2014, temporary workers made up 15.5% of employees in the construction industry, about 46% higher than in 2003 (chart 21a).1 Temporary employment in non-construction industries began expanding much later than in construction, remaining at around 7% until 2014, when it jumped to 9.1% of employees. On average, construction had the second highest proportion of temporary workers (13.8%) among the major industry sectors from 2011 to 2014 (chart 21b).
In terms of work arrangements, construction workers were more likely to be freelance workers or independent contractors compared to the overall workforce. In 2015, 23.0% of construction workers were independent contractors or consultants, and another 8.3% were paid by a temporary agency or contracted by another company (chart 21c). Overall, nearly 40% of construction workers had non-traditional work arrangements, compared to 17.2% of workers in all industries.
Within construction, the demographics of temporary workers differed from regular employees. Between 2011 and 2014, about 36% of temporary workers were aged 16 to 34 years, while less than 30% of regular workers were in that age group (chart 21d). Nearly half of temporary workers did not finish high school, compared to one in five regular workers.. In addition, temporary workers were twice as likely to be Hispanic (44.3% versus 21.0%) and foreign born (40.6% versus 19.2%) when compared to regular workers.
Temporary workers were also more likely to be employed in production occupations (86% versus 70%), and work for establishments with 10 or fewer employees (71% versus 59.5%; chart 21e). In addition, temporary workers were more likely to work part-time than regular employees (26.9% versus 15.0%).
Temporary employment makes it easier for companies to adjust labor while avoiding some of the costs associated with hiring, firing, and workers’ benefits. However, it increases job instability and can lead to other adverse effects for temporary workers. Compared to regular employees, temporary workers tend to receive lower earnings and fewer benefits, and are less likely to be given adequate safety and health training.2,3,4 Consequently, temporary workers are more vulnerable to workplace safety and health hazards than workers in traditional employment arrangements.5,6
To protect temporary workers, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched the Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI), focusing on issues affecting workers in the temporary help services industry.4 According to the TWI, both host employers and staffing agencies have a role in complying with workplace health and safety requirements and share responsibility for ensuring worker safety and health. As was stated in the OSHA / NIOSH Recommended Practices guide, Protecting Temporary Workers, “Whether temporary or permanent, all workers always have a right to a safe and healthy workplace.”5
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Temporary workers – Definition from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS): If the respondent answered “yes” to either of these two questions, “Is your current main job a temporary job?” or “Is your current main job a seasonal job?”, then the worker was counted as a temporary worker. The MEPS data only included respondents that had jobs. Temporary workers could be full-time or part-time workers.
1. Numbers for temporary employment on this page were estimated using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) – Household Component (HC), a sample of families and individuals in selected communities across the United States. Additional information on MEPS is available at https://meps.ahrq.gov/mepsweb/about_meps/survey_back.jsp (Accessed January 2017).
2. U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2015. Contingent workforce: Size, characteristics, earnings, and benefits. GAO-15-168R, http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/669766.pdf (Accessed January 2017).
3. Dong XS, Wang X, Largay JA. 2015. Temporary workers in the construction industry. CPWR Quarterly Data Report, Second Quarter. CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training: Silver Spring, MD. https://www.cpwr.com/publications/second-quarter-temporary-workers-construction-industry (Accessed January 2017).
4. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 2015. Protecting temporary workers. https://www.osha.gov/temp_workers/ (Accessed January 2017).
5. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 2014. Recommended practices: Protecting temporary workers. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3735.pdf (Accessed January 2017).
Chart 21a – Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 2003-2014 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.
Charts 21b, 21d, and 21e – Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 2011-2014 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.
Chart 21c – National Center for Health Statistics. 2015 Occupational Health Supplement to the National Health Interview Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.
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