The NY Times article The Rise of Permanent Temp Economy provides an interesting look at the history of temporary work in America.
The author argues the temp industry in America was created by exploiting gender stereotypes in the 1950s and 1960s. Key quote:
To avoid union opposition, [temp agencies] developed a clever strategy, casting temp work as “women’s work,” and advertising thousands of images of young, white, middle-class women doing a variety of short-term office jobs.
The strategy worked and early temp leaders (like Kelly Girls) were able to establish "a new sector of low-wage, unreliable work right under the noses of powerful labor unions."
The article goes on to argue that temporary jobs are bad jobs that don't provide adequate salaries or protection from abusive employers.
This view - that all temporary jobs are bad - is common in academia, which is the profession of the author.
And I agree many temp jobs are bad. The Center for Progressive Reform's At the Company's Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions does an excellent job of chronicling some of the worst examples of temp worker exploitation.
But there are two sides of the temp economy. As shown by the MBO Partners State of Independence studies, over half of all independent workers are satisfied with contingent work and the vast majority plan to stay independent instead of seeking traditional employment.
Also, about 2.2 million American independent workers earn more than $100k per year. Needless to say, this group doesn't feel exploited.
As a society we need to fix the problems that exist with temporary work. But we also have to remember that temporary work has its advantages for both employers and employees and many temps prefer this style of work over traditional jobs.