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Temporary Agency Employment as a Way out of Poverty?

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  • David Autor
  • Susan Houseman

Abstract

The high incidence of temporary agency employment among participants in government employment programs has catalyzed debate about whether these jobs help the poor transition into stable employment and out of poverty. We provide direct evidence on this question through analysis of a Michigan welfare-to-work program in which program participants were randomly allocated across service providers ('contractors') with different job placement practices. We draw on a telephone survey of contractors and on administrative program data linked with wage records data on all participants entering the program over a three-and-a half-year period. Our survey evidence documents a consensus among contractors that temporary help jobs are generally easier for those with weak skills and experience to obtain, but no consensus on whether temporary help jobs confer long-term benefits to participants. Our analysis of the quasi-experimental data introduced in Autor and Houseman (2005) shows that placing participants in either temporary or direct-hire jobs improves their odds of leaving welfare and escaping poverty in the short term. However, we find that only direct-hire placements help reduce welfare dependency over longer time horizons. Our findings raise questions about the incentive structure of many government employment programs that emphasize rapid placement of program participants into jobs and that may inadvertently encourage high placement rates with temporary help agencies.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11742.

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Date of creation: Nov 2005
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11742

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  1. Heinrich, Carolyn J. & Mueser, Peter R. & Troske, Kenneth, 2002. "Welfare to Temporary Work: Implications for Labor Market Outcomes," IZA Discussion Papers 584, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Susan N. Houseman, 2000. "Why Employers Use Flexible Staffing Arrangements: Evidence from an Establishment Survey," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 01-67, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
  3. David H. Autor, 2001. "Why Do Temporary Help Firms Provide Free General Skills Training?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1409-1448, November.
  4. James J. Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 2005. "Structural Equations, Treatment Effects and Econometric Policy Evaluation," NBER Working Papers 11259, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Joshua D. Angrist, 2004. "Treatment effect heterogeneity in theory and practice," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(494), pages C52-C83, 03.
  6. Julia Lane & Kelly S. Mikelson & Pat Sharkey & Doug Wissoker, 2003. "Pathways to work for low-income workers: The effect of work in the temporary help industry," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(4), pages 581-598.
  7. David H. Autor & Susan Houseman, 2005. "Do Temporary Help Jobs Improve Labor Market Outcomes for Low-Skilled Workers? Evidence from 'Work First'," NBER Working Papers 11743, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Katharine G. Abraham, 1988. "Flexible Staffing Arrangements and Employers' Short-Term Adjustment Strategies," NBER Working Papers 2617, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. David H. Autor, 2003. "Outsourcing at Will: The Contribution of Unjust Dismissal Doctrine to the Growth of Employment Outsourcing," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(1), pages 1-42, January.
  10. Susan N. Houseman, . "Why Employers Use Flexible Staffing Arrangements: Evidence from an Establishment Survey," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles snh2001, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
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Cited by:
  1. Fredrik Andersson & Harry J. Holzer & Julia Lane, 2009. "Temporary Help Agencies and the Advancement Prospects of Low Earners," NBER Chapters, in: Studies of Labor Market Intermediation, pages 373-398 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. H Ingham & M Ingham, 2010. "Temporary Work in Poland: Who Gets the Jobs?," Working Papers 604645, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
  3. Addison, John T. & Surfield, Christopher J., 2006. "Does Atypical Work Help the Jobless? Evidence from a CAEAS/CPS Cohort Analysis," IZA Discussion Papers 2325, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Dahl, Molly & DeLeire, Thomas & Schwabish, Jonathan, 2009. "Stepping Stone or Dead End? The Effect of the EITC on Earnings Growth," IZA Discussion Papers 4146, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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