The Challenges of a Permanent Temporary Worker

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I just finished reading A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers, this weekend. I highly recommend it.

In a rising Saudi Arabian city, far from weary, recession-scarred America, a struggling businessman pursues a last-ditch attempt to stave off foreclosure, pay his daughter’s college tuition, and finally do something great. In A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers takes us around the world to show how one man fights to hold himself and his splintering family together in the face of the global economy’s gale-force winds.

The main character, Alan, is a middle-aged man who no longer holds a place in corporate America. Pushed out of full-time work, he is a perpetual consultant out of necessity. And when you are a full-time temporary worker in a society still built for permanent employment, you lose.

Sound familiar? It does for many people I know.

  • When you’re a permanent temporary worker, your wait for work.
  • Regardless of whether you’re working or not, you must meet your obligations just to be ready for work. You pay for your own mobile phone, your house that doubles for your office, your utilities, your computer and internet connection, your printer, your printer ink, your car, etc.
  • If you are responsible, you buy insurance — whether you’re actively working at the moment or not — just to make sure you are covered if you get in a car accident or trip and fall in your home office while conducting business.

Yes, you can deduct some of these expenses in America; however, our tax code doesn’t address the real cost of doing business as a sole proprietor/1099. And once you start working, you also spend uncompensated time collecting on money that’s owed to you when your invoice gets lost in some crazy client process.

Even though we are being sold on the freedom and independence of a flexible workforce, our society is still set up for permanent work. We assume people have money coming into their households on the 1st and 15th of each month. Citizens and consumers are asked to pay mortgages, credit card bills and utilities on a monthly basis. And then we charge a penalty when people can’t meet those monthly expenses even though they might be paid 30, 60 or even 90 days after work is completed.

The rise of the permanent temporary economy is convenient for global corporations that want to drive down the cost of doing business. But how do you have consumers who actually buy stuff when you have an economy and a society that doesn’t sync with the way people actually earn money?

I am all for the hustle in life. I think people should plan, save and invest wisely. But I am not about to scrounge and hustle for a transactional, temporary consulting job — where I am told outright that all workers are expendable — when nothing else about the work-life experience is changing around me.

Permanent, temporary work sucks for most people. You want temporary workers? I want to cancel the cable, turn off the internet and stop buying stuff.

Let’s see who makes it out of this new economy first.

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