IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Measuring temporary labor outsourcing in U.S. manufacturing


  • Marcello Estevao
  • Saul Lach


Several analysts claim that firms have been using more flexible work arrangements in order to contain the costly adjustment of labor to changes in economic conditions. In particular, temporary help supply (THS) employment has increased dramatically in the last ten years. However, there is only scant evidence on the industries that are hiring this type of worker. In particular, some anecdotal evidence points to the fact that manufacturing industries have substantially stepped up their demand for THS workers since the mid-1980s. If this is true, not accounting for this flow of workers from the service sector to manufacturing may lead to misleading conclusions about the cyclical and long-term path of manufacturing employment and hours of work. We close this gap by providing several estimates of the number of individuals employed by temporary help supply (THS) firms who worked in the manufacturing sector from 1972 to 1997. One estimate, in particular, is based on a new methodology that uses minimal assumptions to put bounds on the probability that a manufacturing worker is employed by a THS firm. The bounds rely on readily available data on workers' individual characteristics observable in the CPS. We show that manufacturers have been using THS workers more intensively in the 1990s. In addition, the apparent flatness of manufacturing employment in the 1990s can be explained in part by this type of outsourcing from the service sector. Finally, not accounting for THS hours overstated the increase in average annual manufacturing labor productivity by 1/2 percentage point during the 1991-1997 period.

Suggested Citation

  • Marcello Estevao & Saul Lach, 1999. "Measuring temporary labor outsourcing in U.S. manufacturing," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-57, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:1999-57

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David, Paul A, 1990. "The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 355-361, May.
    2. Manski, C.F., 1992. "Identification Problems in the Social Sciences," Working papers 9217, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
    3. David H. Autor, 2001. "Why Do Temporary Help Firms Provide Free General Skills Training?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1409-1448.
    4. Abraham, Katharine G & Taylor, Susan K, 1996. "Firms' Use of Outside Contractors: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(3), pages 394-424, July.
    5. Lewis M. Segal & Daniel G. Sullivan, 1995. "The temporary labor force," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Mar, pages 2-19.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Fitzenberger, Bernd & Hübler, Olaf & Kraft, Kornelius, 2008. "Flexibilisierungspotenziale bei heterogenen Arbeitsmärkten : eine Einführung (Potentials for increasing flexibility in heterogeneous labour markets : an introduction)," Zeitschrift für ArbeitsmarktForschung - Journal for Labour Market Research, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany], vol. 41(2/3), pages 95-116.
    2. Yukako Ono & Daniel Sullivan, 2013. "Manufacturing Plants' Use of Temporary Workers: An Analysis Using Census Microdata," Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(2), pages 419-443, April.
    3. Marloes de Graaf-Zijl & Gerard van den Berg & Arjan Heyma, 2011. "Stepping stones for the unemployed: the effect of temporary jobs on the duration until (regular) work," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(1), pages 107-139, January.
    4. repec:iab:iabzaf:v:41:i:2/3:p:95-116 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Yukako Ono & Alexei Zelenev, 2003. "Temporary help services and the volatility of industry output," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q II, pages 15-28.
    6. Ann Bartel & Saul Lach & Nachum Sicherman, 2005. "Outsourcing and Technological Change," NBER Working Papers 11158, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. David H. Autor, 2000. "Outsourcing at Will: Unjust Dismissal Doctrine and the Growth of Temporary Help Employment," JCPR Working Papers 153, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    8. Randall W. Eberts, 2005. "After the doors close: assisting laid-off workers to find jobs," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q II, pages 75-85.
    9. Samuel Berlinski, 2008. "Wages and Contracting Out: Does the Law of One Price Hold?," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 46(1), pages 59-75, March.
    10. Marcello Estevao & Saul Lach, 1999. "The evolution of the demand for temporary help supply employment in the United States," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-58, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    11. Britton Lombardi & Yukako Ono, 2008. "Professional employer organizations: What are they, who uses them, and why should we care?," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q IV, pages 2-14.
    12. Matthew Dey & Susan N. Houseman & Anne Polivka, 2010. "What Do We Know about Contracting Out in the United States? Evidence from Household and Establishment Surveys," Book chapters authored by Upjohn Institute researchers,in: Katharine G. Abraham & James R. Spletzer & Michael J. Harper (ed.), Labor in the New Economy, pages 267-304 W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    13. Randall W. Eberts, "undated". "After the Doors Close: Assisting Laid-Off Workers to Find Jobs," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles rwe2005, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    14. Maria Ward Otoo, 1999. "Temporary employment and the natural rate of unemployment," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-66, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    15. Matthew Dey & Susan Houseman & Anne Polivka, 2006. "Manufacturers' Outsourcing to Employment Services," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 07-132, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    16. Alberto López, 2014. "Outsourcing and firm productivity: a production function approach," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 47(3), pages 977-998, November.

    More about this item


    Labor market ; Manufactures ; Temporary employees;

    JEL classification:

    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:1999-57. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Franz Osorio). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.