ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Many welfare mothers who seek employment through temporary agencies share similar skill deficits, work barriers and family constraints as those hired directly by employers, a new University of Michigan study shows.
Welfare recipients who temp, however, are more likely to be African American, as well as earn significantly lower hourly wages, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
The study analyzed employment patterns of current and former welfare recipients in temporary jobs during a six-year period following the implementation of welfare reform.
"Temp work is an integral component of many welfare recipients' employment trajectories as they transition off welfare," said Mary Corcoran, U-M professor of public policy and political science.
Five interviews (waves) between 1997 and 2003 were conducted for white and African American women with children who received welfare.
These women were compared on measures of skill deficits, work barriers, family characteristics and welfare histories. The skill measures include literacy deficiency, learning disabilities, knowledge of work norms and job skills. Barriers include physical limitations as well as mental health problems such as depression, alcohol or drug dependence and severe domestic violence. An indicator of family pressure measures whether the respondent has a child with a health problem.
Race was strongly associated with temping. African American recipients are more likely to temp (68 percent compared to 48 percent) and less likely to be in jobs with supervisory responsibility than similarly qualified and situated white recipients.
"This may reflect racial discrimination in access to directâhire and supervisory jobs," said Juan Chen, the study's lead author from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Women who work only at directâhire jobs reported higher hourly wages ($9.14) in wave 5 than did either recipients who temp at only one wave ($8.02) or those who temp at two or more waves ($8.23).
Researchers note that critics assert that women who take temp jobs become stuck in a revolving door, repeatedly cycling in and out of temporary employment. The current results provide little support for these predictions. Most of the recipients who temp do not persistently cycle in and out of temporary employment. The majority of women who temped over a 6âyear period did so for 13 or fewer weeks, and the percentage of women who temp dropped sharply from 21 percent between waves 1 and 2 to only 8 percent between waves 4 and 5, Corcoran said.
Respondents' own accounts also contradicted the assumption that temp jobs provide neither training nor links to regular work. The majority of women who temp reported learning job skills either while working as a temp or from agencyâprovided training, the researchers said. Three in 10 reported that temping led to a regular job.
Agencies are more likely to provide behavioral training (workplace rules and general conduct, how to dress for a job interview) or training in blueâcollar skills (industrial skills or safety) than in whiteâcollar skills (computer skills, business skills).
The findings appear in the recent issue of Social Service Review: www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/653457
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy: www.fordschool.umich.edu
Department of Political Science: http://polisci.lsa.umich.edu