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Tag Archives: Work schedules

New Recommendations on Improving Data on Contingent and Alternative Work Arrangements

The workplace is changing. We have seen more evidence of that in recent months as workplaces have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, many of us wanted to learn more about telework, flexible work hours, and independent contracting. We also wanted to know more about intermittent or short-term work found through mobile devices, unpredictable work schedules, and other employment relationships we might not think of as traditional. It’s our job at BLS to keep up with these new work relationships and figure out how to measure them.

In 2018, we released data collected in 2017 about people in contingent and alternative work arrangements. Contingent workers are people who do not expect their jobs to last or who report their jobs are temporary. Alternative work arrangements include independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary help agency workers, and workers provided by contract firms. We also published data in 2018 about electronically mediated work. All of these data reflect the rapidly changing workplace.

Those reports received a lot of attention, but policymakers, employers, researchers, and others told us they want to know more about these nontraditional workers. We need to understand people in jobs that often involve doing short-term tasks, such as ridesharing or data-entry services. Our 2017 survey included a few questions about these arrangements, but this work can be complex and varied. That makes it hard to measure nontraditional work arrangements with just a few questions.

To effectively analyze these hard-to-measure work arrangement, BLS sought out experts on nontraditional work. In 2019, we contracted with the Committee on National Statistics to explore what we should measure if we had the funding to collect and publish more data about these workers. We asked the committee not to recommend changes to the main Current Population Survey, the large monthly survey of U.S. households from which we measure the unemployment rate and other important labor market measures. The committee had free rein, however, to recommend topics we should examine in any future edition of the Contingent Worker Supplement to the Current Population Survey. We also asked the committee to recommend changes to the survey design and methods of data collection if we were to conduct the supplement again.

The Committee on National Statistics is a federally supported independent organization whose mission is to improve the statistical methods and information that guide public policies. The committee moved quickly to form a group of experts on the relevant topics. I asked these experts to review the Contingent Worker Supplement and consider other sources of information on nontraditional work arrangements. The group was impressive and included a former BLS Commissioner, a former Administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, and several experts in economics and survey methods. They all volunteered their time to help us improve the Contingent Worker Supplement.

The group held public meetings and a workshop, hearing from experts, data users, and policymakers to understand what data would be the most valuable. At the end of their year-long review, they produced a report with specific recommendations in July of 2020 about measurement objectives and data collection.

BLS thanks the Committee on National Statistics and the expert panel for the time and effort they put into the report. Their recommendations thoughtfully balanced the desire to measure everything about this important topic with the limited time and information survey respondents can give us. In the coming months, we will study the report. It will guide us as we consider how to update the Contingent Worker Supplement to reflect the variety of work arrangements in the U.S. labor market.

New Data on Balancing Family Needs with Work

Among the many challenges for today’s families is the balance between caregiving and the demands of working outside the home. Some workers are even sandwiched between the need to provide both childcare and eldercare. New information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that about two out of three employees have paid time off available to meet these needs.

Interest among federal, state, and local policymakers in paid time off and other job flexibilities motivated the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau to sponsor an extra set of questions in the American Time Use Survey. The 2017–18 Leave and Job Flexibilities Module gives us data on the characteristics of wage and salary workers who have access to paid and unpaid leave in their jobs. The module also asked questions about workers who work at home and whether they have flexible work schedules. We also know more about workers who do not have access to leave and job flexibilities. Because we collected the data directly from workers, we could ask them about their experiences, such as the reasons they take leave, or don’t take it even when they need to, and why they work at home.

We now know that 66 percent of U.S. wage and salary workers were able to take paid leave from their jobs in 2017–18. Workers were most often able to use paid leave for a vacation and if they were sick or needed medical care. One area of interest is about people who provide unpaid eldercare. The survey showed that 64 percent of eldercare providers who were employed were able to use paid leave to provide elder caregiving. Another 28 percent of these caregivers were not able to take paid leave for this reason, and 8 percent didn’t know if their employer would allow them to use paid leave to provide eldercare.

Percent of workers with access to paid leave who could use it for the following reasons, 2017–18

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We also have learned that 36 million workers (25 percent) sometimes worked at home, and they did so for different reasons. Twenty-four percent worked at home because of a personal preference, 23 percent did so to catch up on work, 22 percent worked at home to coordinate their work schedule with personal or family needs, and 16 percent did so because their job required it. Among those who sometimes worked at home, men and women had different reasons for doing so. Women were more likely than men to work at home to finish or catch up on work and to coordinate their work schedule with personal or family needs. Men were more likely than women to work at home because of a personal preference.

Percent of workers who work at home by main reason, 2017–18

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We published these results and more in two recent news releases. One news release focused on workers’ access to leave, their use of leave, and an unmet need for leave. The second focused on workers’ job flexibilities and work schedules.

These releases present data on:

  • Access to paid and unpaid time off
  • Use of paid and unpaid time off
  • Needing to take leave from a job but deciding not to take it
  • Flexible work hours
  • Knowing work schedule in advance
  • Working from home

The releases provide information by:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Race
  • Hispanic or Latino ethnicity
  • Educational attainment
  • Full- or part-time status
  • Earnings

We also have data files that allow researchers to analyze the data and gain even more insights. Following the policies of BLS and the U.S. Census Bureau to protect the privacy of survey respondents, these data files do not have any information that could identify individual participants.

Percent of workers with access to paid leave who could use it for the following reasons, 2017–18
ReasonYesNoDon’t know

Vacation

95%5%0%

Own illness or medical care

9461

Illness or medical care of another family member

78166

Birth or adoption of a child

76159

Errands or personal reasons

70282

Childcare, other than for illness

65314

Eldercare

64288

Note: The estimates for “childcare, other than for illness” are for workers who were parents of household children under age 18. The estimates for “eldercare” are only for workers who were eldercare providers.

Percent of workers who work at home by main reason, 2017–18
ReasonTotalMenWomen

Personal preference

24%27%21%

Finish or catch up on work

232126

Coordinate work schedule with personal or family needs

222025

Job requires working at home

161616

Reduce commuting time or expense

9109

Weather

443

Other

221