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Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary

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The untold history of the surprising origins of the "gig economy" --how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace and the lives of millions of working men and women in postwar America. Every working person in the United States asks the same question, how secure is my job? For a generation, roughly from 1945 t The untold history of the surprising origins of the "gig economy" --how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace and the lives of millions of working men and women in postwar America. Every working person in the United States asks the same question, how secure is my job? For a generation, roughly from 1945 to 1970, business and government leaders embraced a vision of an American workforce rooted in stability. But over the last fifty years, job security has cratered as the postwar institutions that insulated us from volatility--big unions, big corporations, powerful regulators--have been swept aside by a fervent belief in "the market." Temp tracks the surprising transformation of an ethos which favored long-term investment in work (and workers) to one promoting short-term returns. A series of deliberate decisions preceded the digital revolution and upended the longstanding understanding of what a corporation, or a factory, or a shop, was meant to do. Temp tells the story of the unmaking of American work through the experiences of those on the inside: consultants and executives, temps and office workers, line workers and migrant laborers. It begins in the sixties, with economists, consultants, business and policy leaders who began to shift the corporation from a provider of goods and services to one whose sole purpose was to maximize profit--an ideology that brought with it the risk-taking entrepreneur and the shareholder revolution and changed the very definition of a corporation. With Temp, Hyman explains one of the nation's most immediate crises. Uber are not the cause of insecurity and inequality in our country, and neither is the rest of the gig economy. The answer goes deeper than apps, further back than downsizing, and contests the most essential assumptions we have about how our businesses should work.


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The untold history of the surprising origins of the "gig economy" --how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace and the lives of millions of working men and women in postwar America. Every working person in the United States asks the same question, how secure is my job? For a generation, roughly from 1945 t The untold history of the surprising origins of the "gig economy" --how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace and the lives of millions of working men and women in postwar America. Every working person in the United States asks the same question, how secure is my job? For a generation, roughly from 1945 to 1970, business and government leaders embraced a vision of an American workforce rooted in stability. But over the last fifty years, job security has cratered as the postwar institutions that insulated us from volatility--big unions, big corporations, powerful regulators--have been swept aside by a fervent belief in "the market." Temp tracks the surprising transformation of an ethos which favored long-term investment in work (and workers) to one promoting short-term returns. A series of deliberate decisions preceded the digital revolution and upended the longstanding understanding of what a corporation, or a factory, or a shop, was meant to do. Temp tells the story of the unmaking of American work through the experiences of those on the inside: consultants and executives, temps and office workers, line workers and migrant laborers. It begins in the sixties, with economists, consultants, business and policy leaders who began to shift the corporation from a provider of goods and services to one whose sole purpose was to maximize profit--an ideology that brought with it the risk-taking entrepreneur and the shareholder revolution and changed the very definition of a corporation. With Temp, Hyman explains one of the nation's most immediate crises. Uber are not the cause of insecurity and inequality in our country, and neither is the rest of the gig economy. The answer goes deeper than apps, further back than downsizing, and contests the most essential assumptions we have about how our businesses should work.

30 review for Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I loved Hyman's Debtor Nation and was really excited to read this book even though I didn't think I cared about the topic. I was wrong about the topic, but right that Hyman is a brilliant must-read historian. Hyman brilliantly weaves together the history of the loss of stable work by examining McKinsey and Manhunters. He's also the rare historian who covers all his bases. He doesn't just focus on the typical sectors of labor (think white men in hard hats). He looks at house wives, black workers, I loved Hyman's Debtor Nation and was really excited to read this book even though I didn't think I cared about the topic. I was wrong about the topic, but right that Hyman is a brilliant must-read historian. Hyman brilliantly weaves together the history of the loss of stable work by examining McKinsey and Manhunters. He's also the rare historian who covers all his bases. He doesn't just focus on the typical sectors of labor (think white men in hard hats). He looks at house wives, black workers, migrant women and men, and even the instability in the ranks of the white collar bosses. It's a well-written and insightful story. A must-read voice and book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    This was a super well researched, well paced book. But I'm not really sure that I would recommend it unless you have a very strong desire to learn about the commodification of the American worker. My dad spent his entire career as an executive at a temp agency; I worked as a management consultant before law school (much of this book talks about McKinsey and their management consulting ilk disrupting the employment structure of American business in the name of efficiency); and I currently spend m This was a super well researched, well paced book. But I'm not really sure that I would recommend it unless you have a very strong desire to learn about the commodification of the American worker. My dad spent his entire career as an executive at a temp agency; I worked as a management consultant before law school (much of this book talks about McKinsey and their management consulting ilk disrupting the employment structure of American business in the name of efficiency); and I currently spend most of my time working on issues of employment law, and yet I still found this book tedious at times and overlong, for the most part. But if this is really your bag, then step right up!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Evelyn Chen

    I've recently been very interested in the history of labor and how it has changed over the past ~100 years in the US. How did we go from blue-collar work that paid living wages and enabled a single wage-earner to support an entire family, to contracting gigs that provide no benefits and no job security? Hyman answers these questions by tracing the histories of two companies: Manpower (a temp agency) and McKinsey (a management consulting firm). It was fascinating to read about corporations transi I've recently been very interested in the history of labor and how it has changed over the past ~100 years in the US. How did we go from blue-collar work that paid living wages and enabled a single wage-earner to support an entire family, to contracting gigs that provide no benefits and no job security? Hyman answers these questions by tracing the histories of two companies: Manpower (a temp agency) and McKinsey (a management consulting firm). It was fascinating to read about corporations transitioning from prioritizing stability to prioritizing short-term profits, sacrificing worker benefits and wages along the way. Since the 2016 election, we have been experiencing levels of unprecedented class conflict. Trump's candidacy and presidency led to a rise in populist rhetoric from those who are realizing that big corporations have been taking advantage of low- and middle-income workers for decades. Similarly, candidates on the left like Andrew Yang also express concerns about automation and chronic job loss. Now more than ever, even among middle-class families, there is anxiety around gaining skills and finding a well-paying job. Hyman's book gives some context for where this anxiety comes from and why we should feel anxious. A super relevant book for anyone interested in economic history and learning about why and how the workplace transformed from a place of stability to a place of anxiety and uncertainty.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    “Temp” is the latest book about the changes in the American economy that have led to the strong growth in temporary or “contingent” jobs, often without benefits and only at a part-time status while traditional jobs and traditional and stable workplaces have seemed to atrophy and a stagnation has come to more workers. For the lower 90% of the workforce, real wages have stagnated for decades. Any recent changes have come with a recognition that the nature of work and the types of jobs available to “Temp” is the latest book about the changes in the American economy that have led to the strong growth in temporary or “contingent” jobs, often without benefits and only at a part-time status while traditional jobs and traditional and stable workplaces have seemed to atrophy and a stagnation has come to more workers. For the lower 90% of the workforce, real wages have stagnated for decades. Any recent changes have come with a recognition that the nature of work and the types of jobs available to most are very different from what they were from the end of WW2 until the 1960s. This is not the first book to address this set of economic developments. There has been a continuous stream of books, almost entirely negative and worrisome in tone since the Great Recession. Before that, there were the books prompted by the dot.com crash of 2001. Before that, there were the books about mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, hostile takeovers, outsourcing, offshoring, ... While the tone of the literature has been largely negative, there have been exceptions. Workers can now be their own bosses, pack their own parachutes, not be tied to the harsh routine of factory work and overtime, etc. For employers, moving to workforce planning can smooth out business risks and protect you valued workforce. ... and so it goes. Even the gig economy provides people with few other choices the chance to maintain their incomes and lifestyles. Let’s say I had low expectations for this book. What more could there possibly be to say that has not been already said? It turns out that this book is fairly good - for about the first half to two thirds. After that, familiar territory is gone over, although without wasting time on the familiar villains of ride share firms. Louis Hyman is a labor historian at Cornell who also knows how to write. What makes this book special is that he focuses on a deeper history of the sources of temp work than most books do, by providing a joint biography of two key players - Manpower and McKinsey. Manpower pioneered the assemblage and deployment of temporary workers who could fill the needs of major firms without being subject to conventional labor laws and benefit obligations. McKinsey developed the business of high end strategic consulting, thus providing a model for high end and highly paid temp workers as well as developing and deploying the strategies used by industrial firms to reorganize their workers around a greater use of temporary labor on a more permanent basis. Yes, long before Uber and Lyft, these were the two central actors whose success changed the nature of work in America. Hyman also does a good job in identifying the nature of changes in American work. His point, which is not without controversy, is that the post-WW2 US economy of stable dominant oligopolistic firms that provided well compensated and stable career for their workers was itself an anomaly that was bound to change for the worse once Europe and Asia (China and Japan) recovered and low energy prices went away in the 1970s. Established US employers were going to run aground on their own, without the aid of Manpower and McKinsey, who worked to help firms adjust. This is not the fault of immediate villains or politicians. The system that evolved under Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression and WW2 was a fortunate but transitory solution to the last set of major economic crises of the 1930s and 1940s. The threats from global competition had not gone away. Anchoring the growth of the temp economy in a longer history helps to understand the nature of the problems today and keeps the reader from falling for the latest business trade book to come along. Unfortunately, that also implies that there are few easy fixes. Hyman tries to suggest some and they are well intended, but come across as redefining the problem in the form of a solution. This is a complex book with a lot that is going on. Hyman has some trouble transitioning to the post-2008 crisis world and he gives too much attention in my opinion to the evolution of fad business themes around the new workforce. While few of these ideas lack any merit, it is also helpful to know that they are often more consultant pitches than reasonable proposals. But I am nitpicking here. The book is well done and worth reading. Careful readers can sort out the wheat and the chaff and benefit from doing so. I recommend the book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Every so often I run into an author who strings together a bunch of missing pieces that connect a whole bunch of stuff I've been obsessing about for years and Temp is totally one of those books. By putting the postwar, risk adverse totalitarian union-tolerating corporation in context and exploring the roots of the efforts to dismantle it in the wake of the demise of conglomerates in the late 60s/70s, Hyman made a lot of dynamics of the gig economy more obvious. The biggest of them is the rhetoric Every so often I run into an author who strings together a bunch of missing pieces that connect a whole bunch of stuff I've been obsessing about for years and Temp is totally one of those books. By putting the postwar, risk adverse totalitarian union-tolerating corporation in context and exploring the roots of the efforts to dismantle it in the wake of the demise of conglomerates in the late 60s/70s, Hyman made a lot of dynamics of the gig economy more obvious. The biggest of them is the rhetoric of, "Flexible jobs for people who don't want to work full time" being a hook to justify not paying benefits to as much of the workforce as they can manage. And then he goes and does something crazy: He offers possible solutions all built around the notion the postwar labor consensus wasn't inevitable, but the result of decades of labor struggle paying off for white men who created a closed system while white women, people of color, and migrant labor were used to shore up the less permanent jobs. While optimistic I think his suggestions deserve attention. There wasn't some magic force that created the postwar economy, people did. They fought for it. We can too. Corporate America certainly is.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Where have all the jobs gone? Hyman explains it clearly in this interesting but sometimes dry fusion of economic and social history. I learned of this book from a NPR broadcast while driving through Arizona. The subject matter and the author ‘s command of it made me wanting to know more. Basically the social experiment of the New Deal and the collaborative social contract of the 1950’s between corporations/industries and labor fell victim to greed. No longer was stability and a long term view th Where have all the jobs gone? Hyman explains it clearly in this interesting but sometimes dry fusion of economic and social history. I learned of this book from a NPR broadcast while driving through Arizona. The subject matter and the author ‘s command of it made me wanting to know more. Basically the social experiment of the New Deal and the collaborative social contract of the 1950’s between corporations/industries and labor fell victim to greed. No longer was stability and a long term view the goal. It was replaced by risk and a short term goal of the next financial quarter and the ascendancy of the shareholders. Employees were not to be viewed as assets but costs- unlike Japan. At the same time the consultancy craze took hold to advise managers and executives of how to maximize their growth and profits. Armies of accountants and consultants besieged Fortune 500 companies to assist them. Consultants were like crack cocaine as customer demand was insatiable for their advice. It soon became apparent that no company could survive without them. To cut costs labor was the target. More and more employees were let go with increased automation and efficiency of scale. More and more employees were converted to temps or contractors to avoid paying benefits. This happened first with blue collar jobs than decades later with white college jobs. Some corporations would have people working alongside each other together doing the same job but with very different pay and benefits. They would even have different colored name tags so they could distinguish themselves from each other. Talk about a modern caste system. Hyman has chapters on the exploitation of women, minorities to include immigration and the Bracero program. Chapters on the electronics industry and the new digital world of Uber and Etsy. In the last chapter he offers paths for the future and opines that the digital world offers us a return to determining our own destiny much like the farmers of the agrarian age who worked for themselves. Lots of interesting quotes. See below. Page 3 But in the collapse of 2008, we all suddenly became aware that while the economy had grown for forty years, the 10 percent at the top received 87 percent of all that growth ( compared with 29 percent from 1933 to 1973). The much maligned 1 percent alone received 56 percent of all growth from 1975 to 2006. Page 13 ... act to once again make capitalism work for us, not work us over. Page 170 Future Shock was not just another goofy titled book about a utopia ( or dystopia) to come, it was the playbook for the gig economy- a playbook implemented by consultants. Page 271 of Apple Even when innovation eventually returned, the work did not.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Raja

    Don't talk to me about the future of work until you study the history of labor! This is an exemplary history, complete with copious footnotes - which I am a sucker for. It follows the rise of temporary labor (day laborers, office temps, shift workers, consultants, etc.) in the US - closely tracking the rise of Manpower (a temp agency) and McKinsey (a consultancy). Hyman does a great job of weaving in issues of gender, race, and citizenship, with the more conventional class lens of labor history. Don't talk to me about the future of work until you study the history of labor! This is an exemplary history, complete with copious footnotes - which I am a sucker for. It follows the rise of temporary labor (day laborers, office temps, shift workers, consultants, etc.) in the US - closely tracking the rise of Manpower (a temp agency) and McKinsey (a consultancy). Hyman does a great job of weaving in issues of gender, race, and citizenship, with the more conventional class lens of labor history. For example, Hyman highlights the predominance of immigrant hispanic women in manufacturing electronics (often in their own kitchens and with the help of their family members of all ages) and the lack of anti-Uber-like (86% men) sentiment against Etsy (87% women), to show that the popular conception is that good, steady jobs are only owed to men - and that temporary labor became acceptable because of our ideas about gender. This book gave me a solid grounding to parse a lot of our current debates about the "gig economy", automation, job growth, and modern dissatisfaction with work, along with many suggestions for further reading (thanks footnotes!). I learned a lot about subjects I didn't expect to learn about at all! I'd recommend this book to everyone, although parts of the book can be a bit of a slog with too much detail on some points. Thanks to Anne Helen Petersen on Twitter for the rec (it's part of her reading list for her upcoming book on burnout).

  8. 5 out of 5

    King Ludd

    A valuable if frustrating (and often dull) entry into the study of our fresh hell. Hyman is a credulous witness to the seemingly unstoppable tide of labor history, eager to reprint the front-facing pronouncements of industry pioneers Manpower and McKinsey. Importantly, he more than proves his central point, that workplace insecurity is not a new development of the gig economy, but an inevitable outcome of the last 50+ years of corporate capitalism. Hyman's pollyanna denouement is telling though, A valuable if frustrating (and often dull) entry into the study of our fresh hell. Hyman is a credulous witness to the seemingly unstoppable tide of labor history, eager to reprint the front-facing pronouncements of industry pioneers Manpower and McKinsey. Importantly, he more than proves his central point, that workplace insecurity is not a new development of the gig economy, but an inevitable outcome of the last 50+ years of corporate capitalism. Hyman's pollyanna denouement is telling though, because for all of his gestures towards the exclusionary nature of America's once-powerful labor unions (all-too-briefly mentioning the labor struggles of African-Americans, women and undocumented immigrants), he presents the logical outcomes of current trends as a new era of potential. Organizing in this new atomized space, in a pitched battle with every other avatar, becomes merely a question of perspective and technological liberation. Which "direction" will we "choose"? Read this with William Gibson's obnoxious book The Peripheral while sucking on a fentanyl lollipop.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matt S.

    The author gets a bit more lost in this book on the mechanics of economic history compared to his other work. The dichotomous focus on basically two major firms gets tiresome after awhile, especially when the current temp economy is pushed to just the last few chapters.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Bernardi

    A really comprehensive picture of how we got where we are with the gig economy, all of the ways that it has failed the individual to the benefit of the corporation and what a path forward could look like. Have been recommending to everyone.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

    Damn.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    Job safety. Right. Like, how can poor Hyman live without tenure and at least a 10 fold increase in the pension promises! The tax payer, as the name says, has to pay so Hyman can feel safe and dreamy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Micah

    Not really a good book, but a useful book, despite a bunch of disagreements with the author.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Kost

    Don't believe the low unemployment rate. The government Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn't adjusted the way it counts since it started counting. It doesn't count people who stopped looking for jobs. It doesn't count effectively the hordes who work part-time and wish they had more hours or those who don't receive benefits. Most tellingly, "If Manpower supplied a shift of assembly workers every day for a year, that job would not be counted as temporary, although from the point of view of the worker Don't believe the low unemployment rate. The government Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn't adjusted the way it counts since it started counting. It doesn't count people who stopped looking for jobs. It doesn't count effectively the hordes who work part-time and wish they had more hours or those who don't receive benefits. Most tellingly, "If Manpower supplied a shift of assembly workers every day for a year, that job would not be counted as temporary, although from the point of view of the worker, it was a temp job" (264). "94% of all net new jobs in the past 10 years" are NOT traditional full time. (There is a global push for entrepreneurship education precisely because governments and economists see the looming crisis and have to propose something. By emphasizing entrepreneurship, we can lead children to believe that they are responsible for generating ideas about how well they will survive and if they don't, it's their own fault.) The transformation of the labor economy is not a new phenomenon caused by the Internet, but rather was initiated shortly after World War II with the use of consultants, temporary labor, day laborers, and automation. Cost cutting, outsourcing and downsizing after the 1980s has resulted in the permanent loss of jobs. Hyman convincingly shows that the Internet was congenial to the existing trend in the same way that 18th factories were congenial to the trend toward working outside of one's home for someone else. The insecure precariat has replaced the proletariat and the safety nets of unemployment and health insurance and pensions that the eroded labor movement had fought so valiantly to obtain. In another way, many of us have returned to the original way that humans worked prior to the Industrial Revolution: from home. While even the pharaohs hired consultants (recall Joseph in the bible) McKinsey really expanded the consulting company and implemented the 3 year term (move up or out). Management consultancies served as "a vehicle for rapidly collecting and then selling ideas about how businesses ought to be organized" (23). The firm modeled indifference to employees, instability to keep them motivated to work harder, and a brutal life style with excessive work hours. Hyman focuses on Manpower rather than Kelly as the company responsible for normalizing the use of temporary employees, at first to allow companies to fill in for vacations and sick days. Manpower was wisely careful to avoid emasculating salary men and alienating full-time employees by pitching their opportunities to mostly white women as a way to pay for luxuries that the salary of the man of the house didn't permit. The use of such employees spread around the world and in almost every capacity and industry. Disposable workers could be exactly like regular ones, except that they could be hired for expected busier times and dismissed for lulls. Employers routinely game the system for classifying 1099 workers who really should be W-4 with rights and protections. Silicon Valley IT companies adopted the widespread use of both kinds of these employees, providing a model for employers across the board. So what changed? Companies used to regard permanence as the goal, which required and valued a stable labor force. In the 1970s, a "strictly financial view of corporations" meant that short-term profits took precedence. And with the current emphasis on lean, agile startups, with employees that work almost 24/7 for no money in hopes of cashing out with a lucrative IPO, workers are entirely disposable and expected to be temporary. The book ends a note that is as hopeful and prescriptive as the beginning was despairing. It is a call to action. While the book bogs down in detail in spots, Hyman's work places the current labor trend as yet another cycle in history, reveals the underpinnings of the current and coming labor crisis, and suggests strategies to reduce human suffering. This is an essential read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris Esposo

    Not exactly what I expected, but ended up being a good read on the history, and evolving nature of temp work. The book is not focused exclusively on temp work as it is understood colloquially, but with two kinds of "temp" work. The first being the usual temp work most people are familiar with, from ad-hoc contracting, seasonal work, to something more structured like Manpower and other temp agencies. The second type of temp work the book focuses on, possibly more so than the more familiar variety Not exactly what I expected, but ended up being a good read on the history, and evolving nature of temp work. The book is not focused exclusively on temp work as it is understood colloquially, but with two kinds of "temp" work. The first being the usual temp work most people are familiar with, from ad-hoc contracting, seasonal work, to something more structured like Manpower and other temp agencies. The second type of temp work the book focuses on, possibly more so than the more familiar variety, is the elite "white glove" temp work, often referred to as consulting, and more specifically management consulting, though some IT and other financial services consulting can be put into this bucket as well. With respect to the later, the book traces the formation of "temp" work as the public knows it today to a group of management consultants, primarily working for McKinsey & Co.. This part of the book for me was highly redundant with two other text I had read previously on the topic , Duff Macdonald's 2013 book, "The Firm" which focused primarily on McKinsey, and the older more scholarly text, "The World's Newest Profession", by Christopher McKenna, published in 2006, a sociological study of management consultants in general, though again, heavily focused on McKinsey. Like those two other books, the sections in the "Temp" recounts the story of Marvin Bower l, who was a "cost accountant" that really defined modern McKinsey and the conception of management consultants in general, and followed that first generation of consultants as they help lead American corporations to accept and implement wide-scale use of temp workers as a cost-saving instrument, whereby these class of workers could he cut from payroll at will, and also be given less benefits than full time employees, despite doing effectively the same job. If McKinsey is the "antagonist from afar" in this story, then Manpower is the "near villain" in this tale. Though that status is not immediately apparent from the history as recounted in the book. Hyman traces temp work's origins to women's temp work, mostly im secretarial and assistant roles, a proto-gig economy job. As the author states, much of this first class of temp workers were not actually looking for full time employment, but instead were looking for supplemental income for their families that provide flexibility in hours because of the nature of the traditional nuclear families in that era. It was only later, after the recessions of the 70s towards the end of the "30 Glorious Years" of economic growth, did temp start to assume more widespread and purposeful exploitative nature, as the management consultants looked for ways to increase firm productivity, by reducing costs. The book only really discusses temp work as we know it today via the "Gig Economy" in the last 1 to 2 hours of the text, and if one is interested in that topic more centrally, I'd recommend "Gigged" by Sarah Kessler for the contemporary take on the phenomena, and from a journalist perspective. Overall, this book is not bad. If you were not familiar with the history of consultants and their influence on business practice in America, it would be a good starting point in that subject . If you know this matter either by experience or through other readings, the book is about 1/3 or more old-hat. Either way, the parts on manpower and temp is good, the book is probably a good text to read on that subject, as well as the history of corporate strategy with respect to labor. Conditional recommend

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    Hyman presents a comprehensive examination about how the very nature of work changed in the 1970s and 80s, culminating in today's "gig economy." After WWII, corporate America's main objective for its workforce was to create stability and a living wage (at least for the white male workforce). The introduction of temporary workers by Manpower in Milwaukee and Kelly Girls was to give women a part-time job and to help companies find replacements for sick or vacationing workers, primarily in secretar Hyman presents a comprehensive examination about how the very nature of work changed in the 1970s and 80s, culminating in today's "gig economy." After WWII, corporate America's main objective for its workforce was to create stability and a living wage (at least for the white male workforce). The introduction of temporary workers by Manpower in Milwaukee and Kelly Girls was to give women a part-time job and to help companies find replacements for sick or vacationing workers, primarily in secretarial or low-level jobs. But over the years, these companies mushroomed and began to cover a wide spectrum of jobs and to include men. When corporate objectives switched to maximizing profits and lowering costs--with no regard for the wellbeing of workers--the temporary workforce expanded to the point where companies deliberately planned to rely on temps for up to twenty percent of their workforce. The push for a "lean" corporate structure also extolled relying on consultants rather than mid- or upper-level managers for policy and planning; suddenly, white-collar workers were laid off in droves too. Then in the 90's, outsourcing began in earnest, further destabilizing the lives of US workers at all levels. With the rise of the internet, temporary staffing companies like Manpower have proliferated and prospered, but the average American has not. This book is a sobering look at the future of work, especially in a nation like ours where health care and pensions are closely linked to employers. Highly skilled and creative people may thrive in a gig economy, but ordinary mortals are struggling and scared. (IMHO they are exceedingly vulnerable to a demagogue who claims to feel their pain and to have all the solutions, though Hyman doesn't discuss this.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alix

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Hyman argues that the decline of good jobs in the US is not a new phenomenon but rather goes back to changes to the US economy following WWII. Temp shows that temporary work is not a creation simply of the post-1970s economic order, but rather was purposefully created as a strategy for minimizing workplace costs and developed in conjunction with both the new profession of management consulting and technologies that automated and altered work processes. Temp tracks the ideas and decisions made th Hyman argues that the decline of good jobs in the US is not a new phenomenon but rather goes back to changes to the US economy following WWII. Temp shows that temporary work is not a creation simply of the post-1970s economic order, but rather was purposefully created as a strategy for minimizing workplace costs and developed in conjunction with both the new profession of management consulting and technologies that automated and altered work processes. Temp tracks the ideas and decisions made that changed US firms over time. These decisions, made to cut costs, create efficiency, and utilize new technologies (comptometers, then desktop computing, then the internet and cloud technologies), involved reorganizing the workforce so that less and less people worked in permanent positions. Temp does an excellent job of drawing together firm histories (Apple, HP, IBM, McKinsey, Manpower Group and more feature) to show how these changes were intentional and reorganized both who did what work, how that work was done, and under what conditions. Temp may not contain shockingly new material to scholars of political economy and labour, but Hyman brings together trends in a refreshing way to make a clear case that temp work is no accident. This analysis allows Hyman to offer some provocative comments about possibilities for future ways of organizing work. Like many books, however, Hyman’s proposals are sketched fairly lightly and should be considered in the context of other comparative and detailed policy research.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nils

    This book should have been titled “Flex” not “Temp” if it wished to actually capture the decision-making dynamics that led to the development of the temporary rather than lifelong employment. A prehistory of the rise of “the precariat” and the “gig economy.” The best part of this book is the intellectual history of the justifications by business scholars and above all management consultants in transiting from the top-down model of business that predominated in the postwar years, to the neolibera This book should have been titled “Flex” not “Temp” if it wished to actually capture the decision-making dynamics that led to the development of the temporary rather than lifelong employment. A prehistory of the rise of “the precariat” and the “gig economy.” The best part of this book is the intellectual history of the justifications by business scholars and above all management consultants in transiting from the top-down model of business that predominated in the postwar years, to the neoliberal economy of business dynamism. The problem is that by focusing on the workers, he makes the externalities of these managerial decisions the central focus, and thus sometimes loses focus: for example, in a chapter on the use of undocumented workers in Silicon Valley electronics manufacturing, he argues that the outsourcing of manufacturing to small fly-by-night operations that mainly employed undocumented workers was motivated by a desire to evade labor laws. This seems dubious. In general, it would have been a better book if it had been clearer on what effects of the flexibilization of labor were direct and intended, and what have been externalities. Conflating the flexibility of the precariat with the flexibility of management consultants — both being ways for companies to outsource certain functions — seems to also result in a kind of political incoherence. Are we really supposed to pity McKinsey consultants in the same way that we feel outrage on behalf of Jose or Maria, slaving away with a temporary gig in a maquiladora?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Like all books about labor, this one is depressing. It's a thorough look at how employers slowly offloaded all the risks and inefficiencies of business to workers by replacing full-time permanent jobs with part-time, temporary ones. The narrative switches back and forth between the temp agencies who supplied the workers and the consultancies (McKinsey figured prominently) who supplied the ideology. It ends up at Uber, of course, with an interesting, convincing -- and depressing! -- projection of Like all books about labor, this one is depressing. It's a thorough look at how employers slowly offloaded all the risks and inefficiencies of business to workers by replacing full-time permanent jobs with part-time, temporary ones. The narrative switches back and forth between the temp agencies who supplied the workers and the consultancies (McKinsey figured prominently) who supplied the ideology. It ends up at Uber, of course, with an interesting, convincing -- and depressing! -- projection of how robotics and AI will add further instability to the working world. Like many grim history books, the last chapter is the least convincing. Hyman tries to put a brave face on things by suddenly saying flexibility is potentially good for American workers. This is a position that people take, but he'd just spent an entire book undermining it. There's a weird one-page description of the blockchain, including a half-paragraph attempt to explain hard forks, which was just weird. I understand the impulse to end on the optimistic "we have a choice about the society we build" riff -- and clearly its pull is strong because so many people do it -- but if you've written a good, depressing book, I say stick to your guns all the way through to the acknowledgements.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Almost ten years ago, I remember reading an article about how, after having to lay people off (in order to maintain profits) during the recession, many companies simply got used to having smaller labor forces (that often entailed overworking the staff they have or simply outsourcing the work). Numerous studies have also shown that much of the job growth in the ensuing years has been part-time or precarious, and not the good-paying jobs that had been lost. In Temp, Louis Hyman traces how the post Almost ten years ago, I remember reading an article about how, after having to lay people off (in order to maintain profits) during the recession, many companies simply got used to having smaller labor forces (that often entailed overworking the staff they have or simply outsourcing the work). Numerous studies have also shown that much of the job growth in the ensuing years has been part-time or precarious, and not the good-paying jobs that had been lost. In Temp, Louis Hyman traces how the postwar ideal came apart, giving rise to armies of consultants, temp jobs, and the "gig economy." This history intersects with the changing demographics of the labor force, the rise of new management theories and what we would now call neoliberal ideology, and regulatory and legal structures that enabled and incentivized this shift. It's a fascinating read. Where it let me down, though, was the end. I find Hyman to be overly bullish about the emancipatory potential of automation and the benefits of things like skills training. But for anyone who wants a more visionary political program, Temp is still an important read to understand how we got where we are.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Danielle T

    A comprehensive (as far as I can tell anyway, as someone without a business background but who also appreciates lots of end note citations) look at the history of temping and how over time, temps went from "extra labor to let your perms go on vacation!" to strategic ways to claim low layoff counts and run lean corporations. Besides major agencies (McKinsey, Kelly, Manpower), Hyman also includes in his temp focus the ability of women and people of color to participate in the workforce, and the fa A comprehensive (as far as I can tell anyway, as someone without a business background but who also appreciates lots of end note citations) look at the history of temping and how over time, temps went from "extra labor to let your perms go on vacation!" to strategic ways to claim low layoff counts and run lean corporations. Besides major agencies (McKinsey, Kelly, Manpower), Hyman also includes in his temp focus the ability of women and people of color to participate in the workforce, and the fact that so much of American labor depends on low cost, undocumented denizens (I've always assumed that the 1965 immigration reforms increased immigration, and it did for Asian countries, but by focusing on skilled quotas and eliminating the bracero program Latin American immigration actually *decreased*). Recommended read if you have an interest in how our economy got to its present state. It's a tad depressing (especially if, like me, you've done the temp-to-hire thing and contemplate the dearth of "good jobs" available for skillset).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    Hyman uses McKinsey & Co and Manpower to explore changes in the status of the American worker. I didn't think this entirely fulfilled the jacket blurb (which admittedly Hyman might not have written) that mentions "how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace." I feel like it implies a hidden hand to be revealed, when what he presents is the consequence of "capitalists gonna capitalize" - not a sinister plot, but millions of decis Hyman uses McKinsey & Co and Manpower to explore changes in the status of the American worker. I didn't think this entirely fulfilled the jacket blurb (which admittedly Hyman might not have written) that mentions "how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace." I feel like it implies a hidden hand to be revealed, when what he presents is the consequence of "capitalists gonna capitalize" - not a sinister plot, but millions of decisions made based on our existing structure of rewards and incentives. He delineates, in an engaging and insightful way, how disinvestment and cost-cutting brought us to the present circumstance. The book is not all bleak; he suggests that different decisions might have led to a different place, and presents, if different decisions are made, hope for a different sort of future.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Christensen

    As a young professional entering the working world, I really appreciated the long timeline that “Temp” used to explain many phenomena that we see in the modern economy. I think it serves as a good record of the major institutional changes that have impacted the American economy post-World War II, showing each major turn step-by-step. I found the stories well balanced, explaining the macroeconomic and microeconomic forces at play in each instance. I’m not saying this is a perfect book, but I thin As a young professional entering the working world, I really appreciated the long timeline that “Temp” used to explain many phenomena that we see in the modern economy. I think it serves as a good record of the major institutional changes that have impacted the American economy post-World War II, showing each major turn step-by-step. I found the stories well balanced, explaining the macroeconomic and microeconomic forces at play in each instance. I’m not saying this is a perfect book, but I think it’s a useful read (or listen, as I did) for someone curious about American economic history and the lessons that can be learned from it. Read with an open mind, and recognize that you don’t have to agree with every (or any!) point in a book to get something out of it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    I really really liked it, until the last chapter. The author provides a history of temporary work, through consulting and temporary laborers, to the present. I thought that was interesting. But then suggested that temporary working sites (like Upwork) will be key to the future economy. Give me a break. Have you ever tried upwork? I have, and it is nearly impossible to get gigs on there. Plus the site takes a huge cut of the profits. Same thing with Uber. Has the author driven for Uber? Because I I really really liked it, until the last chapter. The author provides a history of temporary work, through consulting and temporary laborers, to the present. I thought that was interesting. But then suggested that temporary working sites (like Upwork) will be key to the future economy. Give me a break. Have you ever tried upwork? I have, and it is nearly impossible to get gigs on there. Plus the site takes a huge cut of the profits. Same thing with Uber. Has the author driven for Uber? Because I have and it is awful. You shoulder all of the risk, for a very small wage, while the majority of the profits go to Uber itself.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Timothee

    I had seen this book and got curious so I added it to my list, and then some alumni were looking to understand freelancing more and asked me to talk more about my experience as temp or contractor. It thought it was time to read this book :) Overall the book takes the time to walk through how jobs moved from post WWII as a secure position (for while male) to something more fluid and temporary all the way to the gig economy today with solutions like Uber and Upwork etc. This is a very clear and comp I had seen this book and got curious so I added it to my list, and then some alumni were looking to understand freelancing more and asked me to talk more about my experience as temp or contractor. It thought it was time to read this book :) Overall the book takes the time to walk through how jobs moved from post WWII as a secure position (for while male) to something more fluid and temporary all the way to the gig economy today with solutions like Uber and Upwork etc. This is a very clear and comprehensive work. I would actually recommend it to anyone interested in the topic, even if you don't have friends asking about it ;)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Wilber

    This was a fascinating look into the long history of American business and capitalism in general. The author discusses how our country's work patterns developed from cottage industry to big businesses that eventually led to the rise of temporary/leased/contract workforces. He did a great job of discussing how all this was a prelude to the gig economy and making it seem slightly less depressing by examining how we could lean into it with such measures as universal, portable benefits. It really ga This was a fascinating look into the long history of American business and capitalism in general. The author discusses how our country's work patterns developed from cottage industry to big businesses that eventually led to the rise of temporary/leased/contract workforces. He did a great job of discussing how all this was a prelude to the gig economy and making it seem slightly less depressing by examining how we could lean into it with such measures as universal, portable benefits. It really gave me a lot to think about!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marc Pressley

    This is a good look at the evolving nature of work in America and how we've started to move into a post-jobs world without a good substitute for jobs. It's a balanced book that seeks to understand how the traditional employee is becoming a thing of the past. As importantly, Hyman presents a variety of potential solutions to consider. This is a good look at the evolving nature of work in America and how we've started to move into a post-jobs world without a good substitute for jobs. It's a balanced book that seeks to understand how the traditional employee is becoming a thing of the past. As importantly, Hyman presents a variety of potential solutions to consider.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christa

    This book really made me think. When I was towards the end of the book I was watching "The nineties" series on Netflix and this book added the things I learned from both complimented each other. As a child/teenager of the nineties it gave me a different perspective on my own real world experiences. This book really made me think. When I was towards the end of the book I was watching "The nineties" series on Netflix and this book added the things I learned from both complimented each other. As a child/teenager of the nineties it gave me a different perspective on my own real world experiences.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Teri Leigh Baird

    This is an important book that truly makes me think about my career, as well as why my job path has been fractured and variable. According to this research I am not alone. This book explains why the working economy has changed and will continue to evolve. He has a few suggestions and many questions for Americans to decide the future of the way we support ourselves.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura Skladzinski

    This went really back and forth for me - fascinating topic that was covered in great detail, but at times it was a bit dry, so it took me a while to read the whole thing. I did really enjoy reading about the history of consulting (funny how so much has stayed the same over the years) and would highly recommend this to anyone in the field, as providing great insight on the industry.

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