How the temp industry undermined the idea that workers are a company's chief asset
The Temp Economy
From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America
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Erin Hatton, foreword by Nelson Lichtenstein
Honorable Mention, Labor and Labor Movements Section of the American Sociological Association, 2012
Everyone knows that work in America is not what it used to be. Layoffs, outsourcing, contingent work, disappearing career ladders—these are the new workplace realities for an increasing number of people. But why? In The Temp Economy, Erin Hatton takes one of the best-known icons of the new economy—the temp industry—and finds that it is more than just a symbol of this degradation of work. The temp industry itself played an active role in this decline—and not just for temps. Industry leaders started by inventing the “Kelly Girl,” exploiting 1950s gender stereotypes to justify low wages, minimal benefits, and chronic job insecurity. But they did not stop with Kelly Girls. From selling human “business machines” in the 1970s to “permatemps” in the 1990s, the temp industry relentlessly portrayed workers as profit-busting liabilities that hurt companies' bottom lines even in boom times. These campaigns not only legitimized the widespread use of temps, they also laid the cultural groundwork for a new corporate ethos of ruthless cost cutting and mass layoffs.
Succinct, highly readable, and drawn from a vast historical record of industry documents, The Temp Economy is a one-stop resource for anyone interested in the temp industry or the degradation of work in postwar America.
"This engrossing study paints a vivid picture of how the temporary-services industry strategically sold temp work from the 1940s to the present day, transforming the face of twenty-first-century labor relations. Hatton tells a thoroughly researched and fascinating tale of an aggressive marketing campaign to establish the legitimacy of a ‘workers-as-liability’ employment model and the organized struggles against it. This landmark study is essential for experts and laypersons seeking to understand the twentieth century’s wide-scale transformation of work."
"The narrative is clear and understandable, which makes it the perfect candidate for supplementary use in labor studies or labor economics. Summing Up: Recommended."
"Hatton has written a persuasive account of how the temporary employment industry grew, following World War II, from a slightly seedy and quite marginal position in the U.S. economy into a robust industry that was central in redefining employment relations."
"This book is a must-read for students of organizations, occupations, and work; labor markets and unions; sex and gender; and economic sociology. It is compellingly argued and documented. Furthermore, it engenders concern and reflection in all who view work as activity that not only puts bread on the table but offers opportunities for workers to obtain meaning, fulfillment, and respect."
"Hatton offers an extended analysis of the temporary industry’s role in changing employment relations since World War II.... Hatton’s is not the first analysis of the gendered story of temporary employment; however, this work is novel in both the depth and breadth of the data. After reviewing tens of thousands of pages of advertisements, business publications, government testimony, newspaper, and magazine articles, Hatton paints a detailed, lively, and convincing account of the ways the temporary industry deployed gender ideology in the service of early industry expansion. The presentation of the data here is both seamless and skillful. There is also nuance in her argument."
"Hatton fills a lacuna in the literature on the temp industry by adding a cultural explanation for its rise and impact on the U.S. labor market since World War II. To reverse the process of job degradation, labor educators and policy makers must first understand the historical role played by the temp industry, which The Temp Economy expertly analyzes."
"The Temp Economy shows us that the [temp] story is not one just of economics but of culture. It is a fascinating tale of an industry tapping into deep cultural veins to justify a market for its products, with profound effects on the American economy as a whole. In this lucidly written and original contribution to the literature, Erin Hatton makes a powerful argument.... Through compelling use of advertising by the leading firms, including Kelly Girl Services and Manpower, Inc., Hatton analyzes the new image of contingent work.... [T]his book should be required reading not only for students and scholars of American labor but also for those who teach and learn in business schools, where these seeds of cultural change need to be sown."
"In her compelling analysis...Hatton covers a breadth of material and offers interesting insights into how temporary agency work developed in the United States.... The strength of her approach rests on her analysis of how the temporary agency industry marketed its services and adapted its approach to expand its role in the labor market.... Hatton's multidisciplinary approach fills a void.... [A] useful reference for those interested in this topic."
"[E]ngaging... [a] valuable and interesting study. Even the most popular labor and business history textbooks ignore the relevance of temporary workers in modern times and the nefarious ways that firms have exploited temps. Anyone interested in the plight of American workers and modern employment practices should enjoy this book. It draws on a wide range of primary sources, including many industry publications, court cases, and government documents, and it is easy to read."
"Hatton’s analysis contributes significantly by demonstrating that temp industry leaders masterfully persuaded various groups that the economy needed temp workers.... This interesting book is useful for scholars interested in gender, work and occupations, labor organizing, the economy, and research methods.... Finally, the book is ideal for showing the explanatory power of content analyses."
"Hatton tells the intriguing story of how this once-despised industry moved to the forefront of the twenty-first-century economy. Even more important, Hatton makes a compelling argument that the temp industry played a large role in changing how corporate management views labor.... The Temp Economy is a masterfully written account of how human actors, operating within the confines of the structural changes in late twentieth-century capitalism, propelled the temp industry upward by redefining downward society’s obligations to workers. The book also describes recent glimmers of opposition, and Hatton concludes with thoughtful prescriptions for reversing the degradation of work.... Hatton tells her sharply focused tale well.... The Temp Economy will be essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the process that led to the degraded job prospects of today’s economy."
"The Temp Economy is an especially original and compelling study.... Hatton’s sophisticated and succinct book justly positions the temporary staffing industry as a leading protagonist in the story about the transformation and degradation of work in the United States. Its greatest accomplishment is in documenting the fact that there was nothing inevitable about the 'temping' of America and the resurgence of the liability model of workers; these were the result of deliberate and dogged efforts, waged in the realm of culture, to reshape conventional thinking about work."
"Hatton’s study constructs an insightful historical analysis of the tactics used by the temporary help industry to institutionalize its presence in the U.S. labor market."
Foreword by Nelson Lichtenstein