A recession or no recession? That is the question

Usually when I mention to someone that I work in the world of contingent and temporary work, their eyes begin to wander and take on a certain glazed quality.  And in a sure sign of disinterest, they eventually begin to nod slowly in fake agreement with whatever it is we are discussing Then again maybe it's just me!

What they do start to get interested in is when we discuss how change in the usage of temporary staffing has historically been a leading indicator of either a recession or an economic recovery.

Today's billion dollar question is plainly "are we poised for a recession or not?" In the 2001 recession, as early as December of 2000 the temporary employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics began to decline slightly versus prior year.  And by mid 2001, when the general public first started talking about recession, the temporary employment numbers were already down by more than 10% from prior year.  Lo and behold a recession followed pretty promptly on the heels of those numbers.

Today we are poised in a nether world.  Lot's of ominous signs (and some good ones, like the Fed's recent rate cuts) but nothing definitively to say recession.  Strangely, every month since December 2006, the temporary staffing employment numbers have been barely negative when compared to prior year.  That's eight months of 1 or 2% decreases, with the peak just hit in August at -2.4%. 

Of course theses are nowhere near the double digit declines seen in 2001. Perhaps the situation is more akin to 1991, where temp employment at peak dropped by around 5%.  Or perhaps this time is different and this current situation is just a little bump in the road. 

My advice, keep your eye on the year over year change in the temp employment numbers.  If they start improving then it will be time to celebrate renewed economic growth.  If they worsen substantially, then it's time to get your recession umbrella out for protection.

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