Growing Labor Market Precarity: An Exploratory Investigation of the Uneven Development of Contingent Labor in the United States

Authors: Ashley Baber*, Loyola University Chicago
Topics: Social Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: Labor Markets, Labor Geography, Urban Geography, GIS
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Labor market precarity has become a growing reality for many workers across the United States (Harvey 2006; Herod & Lambert 2016). ‘Traditional’ jobs in the labor market, where workers secure full-time hours, are provided benefits and retain their employment for extended amounts of time, are becoming increasingly less available and replaced by more ‘flexible’ forms of labor. The contingent section of the labor market has been rising since the 1970’s (Gleason, 2006; Liu & Kolenda, 2012) and spans from low-paid sectors such as day laborers and trade workers, to more specialized workers within the white-collar or tech industries (Peck & Theodore, 2001; Scholz, 2017). In the late 1990’s this ‘contingent’ labor market expanded, particularly into geographies with concentrations of low-paid workers and a lack of job opportunities (Peck & Theodore, 2001). Conservative measures place the contingent labor market at around 5%, whereas more liberal measurements estimate these arrangements to constitute over a third of the labor market (Liu & Kolenda 2012; GAO, 2015). Yet, contingent labor develops unevenly across the United States. Using the 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement of the Current Population Survey, I map the unevenness of the contingent labor market. This exploratory research seeks to understand some of the factors influencing labor market precarity that may lead to more contingent workers in some areas and less in others. Importantly, this work lays out future directions for research to focus on the uneven geographic development of labor markets in relation to city and regional factors of precarity.

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