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  • Dave DeSario

Race, to the Bottom

Most blue-collar temp jobs in the U.S. are staffed by African-American and Latinx workers. This is not a measure of diversity: it’s discrimination. There is “diversity” in temp staffing as there is among pay-day loan recipients or in the prison system. Newly available data shows that the problem is even worse than previously known.

The Illinois Department of Labor began tracking demographic information of temp agency workers in 2018/2019 as mandated by the Responsible Jobs Creation Act. The data collection methods differ from established U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) practices, capturing a clearer picture of blue-collar temp workers. This first ever analysis of the new data reveals:

  • 83% of blue-collar temp assignments are staffed by non-white workers in a state where non-white workers are just 35% of the workforce (Illinois). 75% of those temp assignments went to African-American and Latinx workers.

  • Blue-collar temp workers are 2.5 times more likely to be African-American and Latinx than the overall workforce. (3.43x for African-American and 2.05x for Latinx - Illinois)

  • The over-representation of African-American and Latinx workers found in blue-collar temp assignments is more than twice as significant as BLS data has established for the temporary staffing industry (43% vs. 91%).

Temp jobs perpetuate poverty instead of providing a pathway out of it. They often require the same skills and responsibilities as traditional, direct-hire positions, but offer far less compensation and stability. As companies cut corners and cut costs, it's often temporary staffing agencies that facilitate the race to the bottom. Temp workers receive less training and suffer higher rates of injury. They almost never receive benefits, have unpredictable schedules where assignments can end at any moment, and are treated like second-class citizens in workplaces where legal barriers make unionization almost impossible, and where managers and permanent workers may never bother to learn their names. That is not even to speak of abuses like wage theft, sexual harassment, hidden non-compete agreements that block access to good jobs, and permatemping: where so-called “temps” are on the job for years. In Illinois, the average temp spends six years in “temporary” assignments, and 4 out of 5 never have a temp job turn into a permanent one.


The temp industry may get a worker’s foot in the door, but it isn’t letting them all the way in, preventing a mostly African-American and Latinx workforce from achieving stable employment, economic security, and equality.


Read the full report here:

Race, to the Bottom Nov 2020
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