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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.

Suggested Citation

  • David Autor & Susan Houseman, 2005. "Temporary Agency Employment as a Way out of Poverty?," NBER Working Papers 11742, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11742
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Katharine G. Abraham, 1988. "Flexible Staffing Arrangements and Employers' Short-Term Adjustment Strategies," NBER Working Papers 2617, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. David H. Autor & Susan N. Houseman, 2010. "Do Temporary-Help Jobs Improve Labor Market Outcomes for Low-Skilled Workers? Evidence from "Work First"," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 96-128, July.
    3. James J. Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 2005. "Structural Equations, Treatment Effects, and Econometric Policy Evaluation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(3), pages 669-738, May.
    4. Susan N. Houseman, 2001. "Why Employers Use Flexible Staffing Arrangements: Evidence from an Establishment Survey," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 55(1), pages 149-170, October.
    5. 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.
    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. Carolyn J. Heinrich & Peter R. Mueser & Kenneth R. Troske, 2005. "Welfare to Temporary Work: Implications for Labor Market Outcomes," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(1), pages 154-173, February.
    8. Joshua D. Angrist, 2004. "Treatment effect heterogeneity in theory and practice," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(494), pages 52-83, March.
    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.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Dahl, Molly & DeLeire, Thomas & Schwabish, Jonathan, 2009. "Stepping Stone or Dead End? The Effect of the EITC on Earnings Growth," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 62(2), pages 329-346, June.
    2. Irma Mooi-Reci & Ronald Dekker, 2015. "Fixed-Term Contracts: Short-Term Blessings or Long-Term Scars? Empirical Findings from the Netherlands 1980–2000," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 53(1), pages 112-135, March.
    3. Grund, Christian & Minten, Axel & Toporova, Nevena, 2017. "The Motivation of Temporary Agency Workers: An Empirical Analysis," IZA Discussion Papers 11229, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. 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.
    5. J. Ignacio García‐Pérez & Fernando Muñoz‐Bullón, 2011. "Transitions into Permanent Employment in Spain: An Empirical Analysis for Young Workers," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 49(1), pages 103-143, March.
    6. J. T. Addison & C. J. Surfield, 2009. "Does atypical work help the jobless? Evidence from a CAEAS/CPS cohort analysis," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(9), pages 1077-1087.
    7. H Ingham & M Ingham, 2010. "Temporary Work in Poland: Who Gets the Jobs?," Working Papers 604645, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • J20 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - General
    • J30 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - General
    • J40 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - General

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