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The Rise of the Permanent Temporary Worker

Topics: Current Events

For many job seekers, “temporary work” is a bit of an oxymoron. People looking for permanent positions end up taking whatever they can get, which is often a temporary job for an hourly wage, no benefits, and no job security.

(Photo Credit: Boston Public Library/Flickr)

A few decades ago, if you had a bunch of back-up filing, or your office “Gal Friday” had a week of vacation coming up, you hired a “Kelly Girl.” Kelly Services was founded in 1946 with a brand new idea: match businesses with short-term needs with workers who need work on a temporary or ad-hoc basis. It was a great way for students, homemakers, and anybody who did not want to commit to a year-round job to make some money.

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A lot has happened since 1946, not the least of which is we have lost the sexist language and no longer refer to temporary workers as “Kelly Girls.” Kelly Services was so successful that other companies were launched with the same business model, including ManPower in 1948 and other, smaller temporary agencies that operate in select locales.

Permanently Temporary

Unfortunately for job seekers, business owners today are well aware that they can save money by hiring temporary workers for an hourly wage and avoid paying those expensive benefits and unemployment insurance. Working as a “temp” means no sick pay, no vacation pay, no insurance, no retirement, and no job security.

Some companies use temporary agencies to vet potential hires. Instead of investing time and money interviewing, training, and sometimes letting go new employees, they hire temporary workers. If they don’t like the new person, the temporary gig ends. If they do, they offer a permanent position with the company. Or, they may just keep the position “temporary.”


TaskRabbit is a temporary agency for the 21st century. Business clients and temporary workers interact with TaskRabbit via the internet. Their business model used to resemble eBay; workers actually bid against each other, letting business owners hire the based upon who will work for the least pay.

Gawker reports that this has recently changed. Workers on TaskRabbit are now assigned a rate of pay, and employers may contact workers via Smartphone. However, if a worker can not commit to the task in 30 minutes, the software moves on to another worker.

The bottom line here is that temporary workers have no power. Unless you are a student, earning a second income, or in town for a limited amount of time, temporary work is not optimal. People looking for regular work end up taking temporary jobs simply to make ends meet, but they lack the benefits and job security they are looking for. And in a weak economy, that may be all they can get.

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Do you or have you worked as a temporary? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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