Christmas came early for Peter Espinosa. The 46-year-old Tempe, Arizona, resident had been unemployed since April but was recently hired as a temporary seasonal worker for United Parcel Service Inc. Still, he’s under no illusions that he’ll have work after the new year.
“Seasonal jobs are short-term expediency, but it always fails in the long run,” he says.
On Friday, the Labor Department’s jobs report for November showed that the U.S. unemployment rate continues to hover at a six-year low of 5.8 percent. The economy added the most jobs in nearly three years last month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index soared to record highs after the report’s release. But hidden in the monthly data are millions of Americans who are counted as “employed” while working in temporary, seasonal jobs and part-time positions. And many of them, like Espinosa, would prefer to have full-time, permanent work.
During the holiday season, the unemployed can find temporary relief in the retail, service and delivery sectors. Retail giant Amazon.com, Inc. also announced it created 80,000 seasonal positions across its U.S. network of fulfillment and sortation centers to meet an increase in holiday season demand. UPS announced in September it would hire as many as 95,000 seasonal employees to support the anticipated holiday surge in package deliveries from October through January 2015.
The seasonal openings for package sorters, loaders, delivery helpers and drivers have long been an entry point for permanent employment, training and career opportunity after the company reassesses its needs following the holidays.
Thousands of employees hope to convert these seasonal jobs into regular, full-time roles after the holidays. The upside for Espinosa is working as a driver service provider at UPS. He loads and unloads delivery trucks. He receives an above-minimum wage in a facility where seasonal drivers and seasonal helpers make an average of $16 per hour and $10 per hour, respectively.
When it comes to temporary employment, the downside is fear of the unknown. What if the temporary position doesn’t lead to full-time employment? Before getting hired at UPS, Espinosa applied for over 150 jobs, but was rejected because he didn’t have a college degree, or because he was overqualified due to his previous work experience.
He was a sergeant in the army for nearly a decade. Then, he worked in the public sector for 20 years as an emergency medical technician (EMT), a paramedic, a crisis counselor, a forensic technician and an investigator at the office of the medical examiner in Arizona up until April 2014. “I had my last job for over 9 years. I never thought I’d leave,” he says.
While unemployed, Espinosa enlisted in the National Guard as an automated logistical specialist because an officer told him he’d have a better chance finding a full-time position with that skill set.
Many others face similar challenges when it comes to major career changes. Courtney Wolfskill, 24, who graduated in August from the University of Texas Arlington with a Bachelor’s degree in biological chemistry, is currently working LifeWay Christian Bookstore part time for minimum wage. “It’s frustrating to hear your professors say you’re in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering or math) and it’ll be easy to get a job,” Wolfskill says. But she found she now needs a higher-level degree to get these jobs. “Don’t lie to us, don’t sugar coat it. We all have student loans we have to pay off,” Wolfskill said.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics payrolls report does not ask employers whether positions created are permanent or temporary, its separate Current Population Survey, or household survey, provides a broader picture of employment, including people working part time for economic or noneconomic reasons. People working part time for economic reasons declined to 6,850 from 7,027 in October while people working part time for noneconomic reasons rose to 20,004 from 19,769 in October. Looking at last month’s data not seasonally adjusted, 147,666 were created last month compared with 144,775 a year ago.