Warner calls for more research on the contingent workforce

mark warnerU.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Bureau of Labor Statistics Acting Commissioner William Wiatrowski, urging the agency to conduct further research on the contingent workforce.

The letter follows last week’s release of the Contingent Worker and Alternative Work Arrangement Supplement (CWS) to the Current Population Survey (CPS). The survey, which had not been conducted since 2005, found that contingent workers play a significant role in our economy, with tens of millions of Americans – more than one in ten workers – identified as independent contractors, temps, and contract-firm workers.

“While the CWS is considered the gold standard for measuring these type of work arrangements in the American workforce, data about the size and scope of the contingent workforce had not been collected since 2005, after funding was eliminated. A lapse of 13 years between surveys is too long, given cyclical economic fluctuations in an era where new technology and changes to the nature of work have increased the range of opportunities for workers to pursue flexible arrangements. It is important to understand how these employment figures are affected by external forces, such as under periods of higher unemployment or slower economic growth. Without consistent information, policymakers and experts are in the dark about the size and needs of this population, making it harder to find common ground on solutions to help all workers achieve economic security,” wrote Sen. Warner. “I urge BLS to institute best practices and field the CWS annually, and I will continue to push for appropriate levels of funding in Congressional appropriations for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to ensure the fielding of the survey.”

For years, Sen. Warner has been urging the federal government to collect better, more complete data on the number and type of workers who are part of the contingent workforce economy. Estimates of the contingent labor force range from a few percentage points to nearly a third of the American labor force engaging in some type of independent work arrangement.

Added Sen. Warner, “While the data provided a window into how many Americans claim contingent and alternative arrangements as their main job in a given one-week period, it also demonstrated where there are still gaps. There is no official measure of supplemental work. There is little insight into how workers assemble many different kinds of work arrangements to amass sources of income and livelihood. Without these additional data, it is difficult to help this dynamic segment of workers receive more training and resources, access a system of portable benefits they can carry from job to job, or file their taxes and claim deductions and credits. Moving forward, it is imperative that the BLS measure, in a holistic way, how contingent and alternative work arrangements are both central and supplementary to the foundation of our labor force.”

Last year, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan legislation to test and evaluate innovative portable-benefits models for independent workers. He is also the author of bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing the availability of job training to lower- and moderate-income workers, in an effort to stay on top of the rapidly changing technology and skills requirements for today’s workforce.