This is big.

You may or may not be aware that the U. S. Department of Labor discontinued its Contingent Worker Supplement (CWS) reporting in 2005, some years prior to the acceleration we've seen in the so-called "gig economy."

You may or may not be aware that former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez had sought to revive that reporting in the last months of his service to the DOL.

After many futile online searches, I was able to confirm online (and by phone to the DOL) this morning that Perez did succeed in his request to restore the reporting and that the collection of data to support it did take place in May 2017, under the new administration.

Interested readers may review the DOL's funding request submitted to the Office of Management and Budget last year to obtain a fuller understanding of the rationale for collecting the data, what process the data collection took, and how the data collected will be used by the DOL and policymakers (from the above link, click on the very first document listed to the upper left, "Supporting Statement A: CPS Contingent Worker," which is 18 pages; note that a second document part of the funding request is "Supporting Statement B," which explains the DOL's data collection process in greater detail).

Also at this link to the funding request are further links to the Public Comments from seven organizations monitoring the data collection with interest, six of them pleased to see this effort underway.

As to the date the DOL expects to release its findings, "Supporting Statement A" concludes as follows (page 18):

The supplement is expected to be collected in May 2017 during the week containing the 19th of the month. Processing of this supplement will begin the month following the collection. Survey results will appear first as a news release several months after the CWS is collected.

These news releases will be published in electronic and paper formats. The electronic news release will be posted on the BLS webpage at (link...), the Census Bureau will release a public use version of the microdata after the publication of the news release.

Note that until the DOL ceased collecting and reporting these data in 2005, the Department had undertaken this effort every two years, starting in 1995.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

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Allow me to clarify that while this link to the DOL's funding request for this project doesn't in any way confirm that the request was funded or that the data collection took place as scheduled, it was in my telephone call to the DOL this morning that Department personnel confirmed both actions had taken place. Compilation of the report is underway now, personnel told me.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

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Until such time as the DOL compiles and releases its data, a "2016 Fact Sheet" compiled by the AFL-CIO highlights the rate at which the contingent workforce appears to have increased, but also reveals the complexity of how to measure its size (scroll half-way through report to heading entitled "Contingent Workforce Size Estimates").

As to a baseline, the Fact Sheet cites the last 2005 CPS contingent worker supplement, which "estimated the contingent workforce to be 14.8 million" and "includes independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary help agency workers, and workers provided by contract firms."

The AFL-CIO fact sheet does cite a more recent study by economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger for the Rand Corporation which showed that the contingent worker count "rose from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015," using the same definitions of "contingent worker" the CPS had previously used.

The AFL-CIO Fact Sheet also cites a second study conducted in 2015, this one by MBO Partners, which showed 16.9 million full-time and 12.4 million part-time contingent workers. Relying on 2014 data from the BLS citing 150.5 million total jobs across all industries in that year prior (I couldn't immediately spot 2015 data), this measure would place contingent workers as a percentage of the total workforce at approximately 19.5 percent in 2015. Note that MBO's definition of what constitutes a "contingent worker" is hazy and also note that this study polled only people with access to the internet.

Finally, the Fact Sheet cites The Freelancers Union, an organization that “promotes the interests of independent workers through advocacy, education, and services,” which estimates that there are 54 million contingent workers in the U.S., or about 33 percent, presumably as of 2016. The Freelancers Union defines the contingent workforce more broadly, to include contract company workers, agency temps, on-call workers/day laborers, direct-hire temps, and independent contractors, as well as self-employed and part-time workers.

You have also seen me link here a May 2015 article in Forbes which in turn cites an April 2015 GAO study. In the absence of the CPS Contingent Worker Supplement discontinued in 2005, the GAO study relied upon a "less statistically robust" mishmash of data from other federal surveys. Using the broadest of definitions for what constitutes the "contingent workforce" and estimating its size at the shakiest point in our recent economic history, the GAO pegged its size at up to 40.4 percent in 2010.

You see, then, the need to better define what constitutes a "contingent worker" and to collect a "more statistically robust" count of his incidence in the workplace.

Meanwhile, all that's known for sure is that contingent workers are on the rise.

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