In today's tough employment climate, temporary workers get lower pay, skimpier benefits and a foot in the door.
Far from being a dead-end path to a paycheck, temping is seen as a bridge between jobs and a roundabout route to a permanent position.More than a million people on the job each day in the United States are temporary employees, according to the National Association of Temporary Services.
While office support still accounts for almost half of all temp positions, industrial jobs make up one-third, and 13 percent of openings are for technical workers, such as software writers.
Another 11 percent are filled by professional-school graduates such as doctors and lawyers.
Don't confuse temping with working part-time as a consultant or contract employee.
What defines a temp is the source of the paycheck: Temps are paid by the agency that assigned them to the job, not by the company for which they're doing the work.
Like other employers, temp agencies withhold income and Social Security taxes for their employees and pay premiums for unemployment insurance and workers' compensation.
Some agencies now offer temps health coverage, retirement plans and paid sick leave and vacation.
Nevertheless, 92 percent of temps don't have health insurance, and 98 percent aren't covered by a pension or offered a 401 tax-deferred retirement plan.
About half of all temps took that route because they couldn't find permanent jobs, according to the NATS. But about a third choose to work as temps because they like the flexibility.
Although temps can go for weeks between assignments with no guarantee they'll ever be called, they are free to turn down openings that don't appeal to them.
The price of that freedom: Temps earn 15 percent to 20 percent less than permanent employees doing a similar job for the same company.
But nearly 40 percent of all temps report that they've been offered permanent positions in companies where they have temped.
And almost 40 percent of temporary jobs turn into permanent positions, according to the NATS.
For a view from the trenches, see "The Temp Track," by Peggy O'Connell Justice (Peterson's, $12.95)