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Go Figure: Now BLS Says Temporary Help Has Hardly Changed Since 2005

In a highly anticipated measure of the “gig economy,” the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today issued a news release on its May 2017 survey of Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements, which was last conducted in February 2005. Its conclusion? Contingent work declined over that 12-year span. Moreover, contingent work has declined since the 1995 inception of the BLS study.

BLS defines contingent work as jobs that workers do not expect to last. In May 2017, BLS says, 3.8% of workers—5.9 million persons—held contingent jobs. In February 2005 it was 4.1%. In February 1995 it was 4.9%.

The alternative employment arrangements studied by BLS included independent contractors (6.9% of workers), on-call workers (1.7%), temporary help agency workers (0.9%), and workers provided by contract firms (0.6%). Given BLS methods, the American Staffing Association has historically combined the last two categories as temporary and contract employees, which would be approximately 1.5% of the workers in BLS’s study. The percentages for these two categories were unchanged from 2005 to 2007, according to BLS.

Separately, BLS measures temporary help agency workers in its monthly establishment survey, which shows 2.9 million employees in the staffing industry in May 2017, or 2.0% of the nonfarm workforce—up from 1.7 million (1.5%) in February 1995. The association’s own quarterly establishment survey, which was initiated in 1992 when BLS ceased measuring temporary help services in the 1990s, indicates that staffing employment has increased from 2.2 million in the first quarter of 1995 to 3.1 million in the second quarter of 2017.

“Rather than bringing clarity in sizing the gig economy, the BLS study raises questions because it’s inconsistent with ASA industry data that show significant growth in flexible work arrangements,” said Steve Berchem, ASA chief operating officer. “Puzzlingly, this study shows no change for over a decade.”

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About the American Staffing Association

The American Staffing Association is the voice of the U.S. staffing, recruiting, and workforce solutions industry. ASA and its state affiliates advance the interests of the industry across all sectors through advocacy, research, education, and the promotion of high standards of legal, ethical, and professional practices. For more information about ASA, visit

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