A Nation of Temps and Burger Flippers?

The quality of jobs being created leaves much to be desired.
The future of work? Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Is the U.S. turning into a nation of temps, burger flippers and retail sales associates? Not quite, but the quality of the jobs being created does leave much to be desired.

Today's employment report offered an encouraging sign that the recovery is shaking off a slow winter. Nonfarm payrolls grew by an estimated 288,000 jobs in April, bringing the one-year total to 2.4 million jobs. Most sectors gained, with the notable exception of the government, which has been shedding jobs throughout the recovery.

That said, some sectors stand out: They've made significant contributions to job growth over the past year, and they're punching above their weight as measured by their percentage of total employment a year ago. They include temporary help services, food services and drinking places, retail trade, and professional and technical services. Also notable are home health-care services (think taking care of Grandpa) and mining (the shale boom):


The prominence of temporary employment almost five years into the recovery isn't a great sign. It suggests that companies are hiring through employment services rather than putting new workers on their payrolls -- a practice that makes firing easier and reflects their caution about the economic outlook.

Promising as the gains in professional and technical services might sound, they might not bode well for employment elsewhere. A lot of the growth is in the areas of computer and management consultants -- that is, people who help businesses figure out how to make do with fewer workers.

All told, the data suggest employers are still hesitant to hire and are looking for ways to cut costs, while many employees are settling for whatever jobs are available. That's hardly the recovery we've all been waiting for.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.