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Temporary jobs becoming a permanent fixture in US

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Hiring is exploding in the one corner of the U.S. economy where few want to be hired: Temporary work.

From Walmart to General Motors to PepsiCo, companies are increasingly turning to temps and to a much larger universe of freelancers, contract workers and consultants.

Combined, these workers number nearly 17 million people who have only tenuous ties to the companies that pay them - about 12 percent of everyone with a job.

Hiring is always healthy for an economy. Yet the rise in temp and contract work shows that many employers aren't willing to hire for the long run.

And Kansas City is not immune to the trend. 

EMSI, a career placement firm that issued the report, says the number of temporary jobs in the metro is up 45 percent since 2009.

The number of temps has jumped more than 50 percent since the recession ended four years ago to nearly 2.7 million - the most on government records dating to 1990. In no other sector has hiring come close.

While a job is certainly better than no job, critics says these numbers are concerning.

Driving the trend are lingering uncertainty about the economy and employers' desire for more flexibility in matching their payrolls to their revenue. Some employers have also sought to sidestep the new healthcare law's rule that they provide medical coverage for permanent workers. Last week, though, the Obama administration delayed that provision of the law for a year.

The use of temps has extended into sectors that seldom used them in the past - professional services, for example, which include lawyers, doctors and information technology specialists.

Whitney Armstrong is one of the nearly 19,000 metro workers earning a paycheck on a temporary basis.

"I guess I'm a glorified receptionist," Armstrong said.

She has held all sorts of jobs over the years with the most recent stint at an Overland Park investment firm.

She enjoys the flexibility and freedom that comes with temporary work but admits the uncertainty can be taxing.

"You might work for a couple months and then you might be off for two to three weeks, then you work for another few months. Then you are off for a bit. It is daunting because you don't always know you are going to get something. The phone doesn't always ring," she said.

Experts say an increase in temporary jobs actually affects the entire economy.

Temps typically receive low pay, few benefits and scant job security. That makes them less likely to spend freely, so temp jobs don't tend to boost the economy the way permanent jobs do. More temps and contract workers also help explain why pay has barely outpaced inflation since the recession ended.

But local job placement firms are looking to buck the trend.

The team at Staffing Kansas City in Overland Park says only about 20 percent of their clients are temporary workers, with the vast majority securing long-term contracts.

They cater to companies with about 200-300 employees and say those firms are looking to make permanent additions to their workforce.

"We have seen over the last 2 to 3 years things really picking up. People are ready to pull the trigger make that commitment to getting some great people in their companies. We've seen business pick up for sure," said Marie Phelan, with Staffing Kansas City.

That is reassuring to Armstrong, who says it is nice to know there are other options emerging once she decides to seek more permanent work.

For those in temporary work but want something more permanent, Staffing Kansas City says office jobs, everything from accountants to secretaries, are really in demand right now.

They say most of the people they place in those type of jobs end up earning a full time position.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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