Paul Jacob

Once upon a time there was a guy who had to work for a living. You can see that already we have the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy here.

It gets worse. This person also had to work as a temporary employee, a.k.a. "temp." So this isn't one of the Bard's minor tragedies either, it's "Hamlet" and "King Lear" combined. One is reminded of the famous lines: "To die: to sleep; no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that temps are heir to, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd." And: "Here, sir; but trouble him not, his wits are gone."

Exposing flimsy arguments of sulky polemical opponents is like shooting clay pigeons off a bathroom window sill. Too easy, even ungentlemanly, but somebody's got to do it. Especially when you're dealing with a baseless smear of a whole industry, showcased in a major news weekly concerned to give everybody his turn.

So I did answer those weak arguments, on my little radio show Common Sense, and got some interesting feedback. Anon I did another program on the topic, and got more feedback.

Listeners did not accept my opponent's view that temping involves too much hard work, or that the necessity of being nice to clients is a terrible injustice, or that the American economy as a whole is just the shabby temp economy writ large. They did not sympathize with the theory that working for a living is the pits. Instead, many agreed that temping can be a good deal for employers and employees alike.

If you're an employer, hiring a temp allows you to avoid all the regulations and taxes you get socked with when you hire someone permanently. And you can bring someone on board for just a few days or weeks if that's all the help you need on a project.

If you're an employee, temp work can put food on your table between permanent jobs, or help you get your foot in the door of a company you'd like to work for permanently. Temping may even be the wage-earning method of choice for Muse-haunted types who want the time to pursue a career that isn't yet paying the rent.

But some people advised me that while temping may be swell for some, it's dregs and dross if you're a fill-in prison guard or public-school substitute teacher, or other such marginal element in a government-warped, unionized environment. There, regular employees can make out like bandits while the temps get leftovers, and little chance to advance. No doubt in many hyper-regulated environments, the advantages of temporary employment are fewer.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.