AT THE BMW factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, brand new sport-utility vehicles roll off the assembly line with the regularity of a German express train. Work rotas at the vast facility, alas, are not always so reliable. Between 2007 and 2009, amid the turmoil of the financial crisis and ensuing recession, BMW hired, then laid off and then re-hired some 700 temporary workers through a firm called Management, Analysis and Utilisation (MAU). Josef Kerscher, the luxury carmaker’s American boss, likened the conditions that prompted the wild fluctuations in Spartanburg’s temporary workforce to a “rollercoaster”. Such volatility is not uncommon for America’s temps, however, whose numbers are growing even as their lot in life diminishes.

Demand for temps has never been higher (see top chart). The industry now provides work for some 2.9m people, over 2% of the total workforce. The American Staffing Association, an industry group, reckons that it generated over $120 billion in revenue in 2015. Since the economic recovery began in 2009, temporary employment has been responsible for nearly one in ten net new jobs.

But as...Continue reading