Close-up look at contract work.


Close-up look at contract work.

The NPR/Marist poll reveals a rapidly growing workforce: contract workers. A contract worker is responsible for one out of every five jobs. Although many people enjoy flexibility, work is not stable.


Because of the shutdown, government employees are not the only ones facing uncertainty. So do thousands of government contractors. This week, NPR is keeping a close eye on contractors, part of a rapidly growing workforce.

ERIC ISAACKSON: my name is ERIC ISAACKSON. I’m from leonardo, New Jersey, and I’m a merchant Marine deck officer.

REBECCA MILLER: my name is REBECCA MILLER. I’m an emergency doctor. I’m 42 years old and I live in martinez, California.

MIKE TENNANBAUM: my name is MIKE TENNANBAUM. I am 31 years old and I am an independent business consultant and strategist.

Martin: it sounds like they’re all involved in different industries, but they’re actually part of this rapidly growing workforce. They are all contract workers, working on the project for a period of time. According to the new NPR-Marist poll, the volatile labor force accounts for five jobs in the country. Once again, a fifth of the work is done in the United States. NPR’s chief business editor Pallavi Gogoi and Marist College’s Marist poll director Barbara Carvalho are here to help us understand the results of the survey.

Good morning, both of you.

PALLAVI GOGOI, wired: hi, Rachel.

BARBARA CARVALHO: hello. Thanks for having me.

Martin: ok, paravy, explain the starting point of your poll.

GOGOI: so we basically want to look at the U.S. economy, and we now know that this is very stable.

Martin: yeah.

GOGOI: it’s been 8.5 years. Many people, 96% of americans can and want to work. But there is a feeling of anxiety. We want to look at the reasons behind this anxiety. So we basically think that the results of this poll can be answered, and one of the reasons is that americans are working on these fickleness, undercontract jobs.

Martin: so contract, you think some people might like it because it gives them the flexibility to live. They can be their own bosses. But you said your findings suggest that this instability actually causes a lot of anxiety?

GOGOI: absolutely. I mean, not only is the job volatile, but the salary is also unstable. We find that almost half of the workers, their wages are different every month, that’s a problem. The other thing we found was that over 50% of people didn’t get any benefit from their work. This is neither health nor retirement.

Martin: because they’re not suitable for a company…

GOGOI: exactly.

Martin:…… This is to get it. Barbara, you’re a pollster. This is what you see in other polls, is this the rise of contracting work?

CARVALHO: well, what I think is interesting is that what we see is that employment is no longer a universal solution. We often talk about full-time or part-time, but I think a better feature is a new era, because people really have to piece together their own way to figure out how to implement a living, and how to earn income. We found that even among full-time workers, there was a significant proportion, and 30 percent said they had other jobs besides full-time work.

Martin: what about the salary? Because over the last few years we’ve heard a lot about how wages have stagnated. Are there any signs that this is changing?

CARVALHO: in this survey, we found that 44 percent of employees actually didn’t get a raise in the past year. Now, that means most people do. We define it and define it differently from the bureau of labor statistics. So we found that on average, salaries increased by about 4.5 percent. But the difference is that we also include people who change jobs and get higher wages. 32% of americans who work full-time have actually changed their jobs in the last two years, and about half of them earn more in their new jobs.

GOGOI: can I jump here? I love the idea that Barbara is lighting up people in this kind of contract work. So you basically have a full-time job, but they’re still doing something else. You just have parents who are constantly working. After a whole day’s work, they are likely to get into their cars, a few hours into the Uber or Lyft, may open their computers for a show, because even if they do is good enough, they will refill, they fear that this will continue, and they are working overtime to prepare for the worst.

Barbara, Martin: so, you see in the investigation of another thing is that americans is how to put a lot of, not merely to the contractor, everyone think about their job stability. What did you find?

Cavalli: well, I think we have a little bit of a difference in how people evaluate a broader work plan, in other words, the future of work and how they evaluate their work. Although people don’t think I will lose their jobs, or loss of a job is urgent thing in their life, but I think they are worried about is the daily and monthly exactly have provided they can enjoy a certain level of income and living standard.

Martin: sure, we’re going to study all these questions all week, right? The story about the poll will be in the morning edition, on everything. You can read these works at We also want to hear your own story, so you can visit our website and contact us on Facebook and Twitter. We’ve been talking to NPR business editor Pallavi Gogoi and Marist College’s Barbara Carvalho about the new survey. Thank you both.

GOGOI: thank you, Rachel.

CARVALHO: thank you.


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