Temp jobs look promising for welfare recipients

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

New research indicates that temporary jobs may be the best way for welfare recipients to get back on their feet.

Ken Troske, an MU economics associate professor, has released a study analyzing the welfare records of Missouri and North Carolina to determine the effect of temporary jobs on welfare recipients.

Troske said temporary work is not necessarily bad for welfare workers because the jobs can lead to permanent jobs.

Most of the welfare recipients studied were women, but only two characteristics were indicative of being employed in the temporary sector — “race and place.” The study found that temp workers are more likely to be African-American and more likely to live in metropolitan areas.

“Black workers are more likely to work in a temporary job,” Troske said. “We don’t examine why, but the hypothesis is blacks are a protected class — including women and elderly. Firms are reluctant to employ these workers directly,” because of the risk of potential discrimination suits.

Characteristics including age, education and previous work experience played little role in determining whether a poor worker would end up in a temporary position. In fact, previously employed women were more likely to be unemployed than working in the temporary sector.

Jobless welfare recipients were characterized as less educated, more likely to be white and more likely to have spent more time on welfare without working than people in temporary positions.

The study looked at welfare recipients beginning in 1997 and identified where they were working. The workers were then followed for eight quarters to see where their temp jobs led them.

The study synthesized three different studies on the welfare systems in Missouri and North Carolina. The first compared the women in temporary service jobs to female low-wage workers in other fields. The second examined the situations of women in Missouri who sought assistance through the Job Training Partnership Act, which provides job training for laid-off workers. The third was based on a survey to determine the attitudes toward temp employment among female welfare recipients.

According to the study, temp workers are earning at least 10 percent less than workers in other fields when they first start a temporary position. After two years, however, the earnings gap shrinks, suggesting that temporary workers have a greater earnings growth in that time period than other working welfare recipients.

Troske said temporary workers reported high job satisfaction but that it’s difficult to determine what job satisfaction means.

“They get to a temporary job and find that it’s A) not that bad and B) provides the skills to get a permanent job,” Troske said.

But Troske warns it’s important to realize that even though temporary positions offer substantial job growth, none of these jobs offer a direct route out of poverty.

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