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Economy created 215,000 new jobs in March, but are they real jobs?
While unemployment is the lowest it's been in years, the job market isn't anything like it used to be. Much of the job growth over the past decade has been temporary "non-employee" work. - photo by Sam Turner
The March jobs report brought more good news: a 215,000 net increase in jobs and a 5 percent unemployment rate. That good news, however, is accompanied by new research suggesting that most of the new jobs are temporary.

On Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly "Employment Situation" report detailing the shifting trends in employment. For the most part, March's report looks a lot like the other reports so far this year: losses in mining and manufacturing, gains in health care and retail, and an overall net gain of jobs.

While unemployment is up slightly from 4.9 percent in February, The New York Times reports that this isn't due to net jobs loss, but to a greater rate of participation. This means that more Americans are in the job market actively seeking employment and most of them are finding it.

But new research shows that most of the new jobs being created in the U.S. are not what we would traditionally consider traditional jobs. The past decade has seen a move towards a non-traditional labor market composed of temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, independent contractors, and freelancers.

According to a new study by Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard and Alan B. Krueger of Princeton, 9.4 million new U.S. jobs between 2005 and 2015 fell into the category of alternative work arrangements.

What's more is that these 9.4 million alternative jobs exceed the total net job growth since 2005. This means that 100 percent of job growth over the past 10 years came from temporary or contract work.

And it's not just Uber and other mobile apps that are causing this shift. Currently, alternative job arrangements constitute 15.8 percent of all U.S. jobs, and only 0.5 percent are through "online intermediaries". The shift to "non-employees" is a nationwide, cross-industrial phenomenon.

One concern about a world of temporary work, is that a lot of the safety net that protects employees from "the things that can go wrong in life" disappears, says Neil Irwin of The New York Times.

Benefits such as health care, sick leave, retirement savings, and unemployment insurance are made possible through permanent employment. Non-employees may find themselves in hot water if they have an accident or have to care for a sick family member.

Irwin also notes that alternative employees are much more expendable than permanent staff.

"If the economy turns down or business slows, a contract worker is, as a rule, far more likely to be out of a job than a conventional employee," writes Irwin.

But while temporary workers may be the first ones on the chopping block, they do have jobs. According to Forbes contributor Tim Worstall, one reason unemployment is so low at present is because of alternative employment arrangements.

Worstall says that it is because employers don't need to pay for health care and other benefits that employers are able to hire so many workers, albeit, contractually.

An increase in alternative workers means that the cost of employment for the employer decreases while nominal wages stay static. This, Worstall says, is what helped our country out of the recession: greater employment at a lower cost to employers.

Whether the country would benefit from retaining such a high proportion of temporary workers, however, is a different question. There are still many benefits of conventional employment that employers can miss out on.

Stanford organizational behavior professor Jeffrey Pfeffer has observed that the most profitable and successful businesses focus on cultivating and investing in their employees.

"People are better off as employees, covered by employment protections, offered benefits, and, most importantly, having both greater income security and the benefit of being affiliated with an organization and fellow employees who can provide social support," Pfeffer wrote for Fortune.

While contracted employees may be less expensive to employ, in the long run, businesses are built on people, their creativity, and their committment to a common goal.

"Companies can benefit from having committed employees who can provide the customer service and innovation that leads to success," Pfeffer wrote.
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