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Nov 9 2009   2:57PM GMT

Do Temp Job Upswings Lead the Permanent Job Market?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Numerous observers of the employment scene (and the regular monthly US BLS Employment Situation Summary) noticed a potential ray of sunshine in last week’s otherwise gloomy report — namely, an upswing of 34,000 temporary jobs. Some analysts view this kind of activity as a market predictor, which means that when temp job numbers start going up, permanent job numbers generally start to follow this trend (see, for example, the reporting on the Employment Spectator entitled “Temp Jobs up in October“).

Even more encouraging, says the aforementioned source, is that temp job numbers for manufacturing increased. That’s because “increases in manufacturing tend to lead to increases in retail, customer service, and call center jobs as more products hit the marketplace.” But I’m not 100% that this is an unambiguous statistic, because temp jobs are also a fallback for those unemployed who are willing to accept just about any kind of work to keep some money coming in. I’d be interested to know how many of those temp workers lost their original permanent positions in the last 18 months before taking this observation as an unalloyed harbinger of growth and recovery.

That said, you can’t argue that an upswing in manufacturing (which creates goods for sale, and does indeed create the kind of pull-through phenomena in sales, customer service, and call centers to which the Employment Spectator refers in my preceding quote from that source). But with around 15.7 million people unemployed in the US, 34,000 temp jobs doesn’t go very far to help turn things around, either. It will be interesting to see if this represents a genuine trend, and if we’ll see those numbers keep ramping up for a while, or if this turns out to be a glitch (or seasonal hiring for the holiday retail season as might very well be the case).

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