Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Only 5.0% of Workers Have More than One Job

Really? If we are to believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which collects monthly employment figures through the Current Population Survey, then only 5.0 percent of workers had two or more jobs during an average week of 2018. But there is growing evidence that this number is way too low.

A National Bureau of Economic Research study by economists Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger raises serious doubts about the 5.0 percent figure. Not only do Katz and Krueger think the number is too low, they are also skeptical of Current Population Survey data that show a decline in multiple job holding over the years—from a peak of 6.2 percent in 1996 to the 5.0 percent of today. So they designed an experiment to test the accuracy of the CPS's multiple jobs question.

Using a sample of Amazon Mechanical Turk participants, many of whom are multiple job holders, Katz and Kreuger asked their sample the standard Current Population Survey question about multiple jobs ("Last week did you have more than one job or business, including part time, evening or weekend work?") to see how many said yes. They also probed the sample about any additional work they did in the past week ("Did you work on any other... small paid jobs last week that you did not include in your response to the previous question?")

Among those who reported having only one job on the CPS question, fully 61 percent said they had failed to report another small job they had done in the reference week. Among those who reported having multiple jobs on the CPS question, an additional 38 percent reported having even more work than was captured by the CPS.

"The MTurk sample is highly non-representative," the authors note, "but this survey experiment demonstrates that the standard multiple job holding question in the basic monthly CPS is susceptible to underreporting." Interestingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics agrees. While the BLS disputes the notion that its surveys have missed the rise of the gig economy, it admits that the CPS may undercount multiple job holders. For more on this, see the Monthly Labor Review article, Measuring Labor Market Activity Today: Are the Words Work and Job too Limiting for Surveys?

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Understanding Trends in Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, Work Paper 25425 ($5)

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