Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Work at Home: Data from the CPS

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Work at Home: Data from the CPS

Article excerpt

Until the advent of the industrial revolution at the end of the 18th century, most nonagricultural workers were engaged in home-based work. Weavers labored on handlooms in their houses to produce cloth spun from raw wool. The blacksmith's forge, the baker's ovens, and the woodworker's shop were all located in their homes. In many cases, even the hired help lived where they worked, as apprentices generally were expected to live with their employers. But as mass production techniques reshaped the U.S. economy, industry moved out of the home and into centralized factories where workers were employed on increasingly efficient and ever more automated production lines.

Home-based work has become such an exception that a return to "the old ways" is news. Indeed, interest in the phenomenon has grown in recent years. Several towns in the rural west are even recruiting home-based businesses as an economic development strategy.(1) The U.S. Supreme Court addressed home work issues in a January 1993 decision with far-reaching implications for home-based professionals. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, based on a special supplement to the May 1991 Current Population Survey (CPS),(2) are described in this article.

According to the cPs, approximately 20 million nonfarm employees were engaged in some work at home as part of their primary job in May 1991, representing 18.3 percent of those at work(3) (See table 1 .) Men and women tended to work at home at about the same rates, although women were more likely to work entirely at home. Other highlights of the 1991 survey results include:

* more than 60 percent of those who worked at home were simply "taking some work home from the office" and were not paid specifically for that work;

* most "homeworkers"--defined in this article as those "compensated" for their work at home-- were self-employed;

* of those who were paid, or were self-employed, only about half worked at home for 8 hours or more per week;

* about 23 percent of homeworkers were mothers;

* married fathers were less likely to be homeworkers than married men without children;

* most homeworkers were in "white-collar" occupations; and

* nearly one-third of those who had a second job did at least some paid work at home.

Earlier CPS data. Before the 1991 survey, data on people who worked at home were collected in a May 1985 cPs supplement. However, information at that time was not collected on whether the work was for pay, which limited the analysis that was possible from the survey. In addition, the questions identifying work at home were different in the 1985 and 1991 surveys.(4) The 1985 supplement revealed that about 17.3 million nonfarm workers reported at least some work at home, although the majority did so for fewer than 8 hours a week. In addition to the studies by BLS and other government agencies, several private and academic researchers have written articles on various aspects of this subject.(5)

Pay status and class of worker

Complicating the analysis of the 20 million persons who reported that they did at least some of their work at home is that many different types of workers are pan of this large group. First, some are paid for this work, while most others are not. Some work for themselves, while others work at home under agreements with their employers.(6) Some work exclusively or primarily at home, while to others such work is incidental (or perhaps occasional). Also, while most persons who work at home do so in their primary jobs, others moonlight at home, often in endeavors quite different from their primary work.

Because most of the interest in this topic focuses on those who use their homes as an alternative worksite rather than employees who simply "take some work home from the office," a method to separate these groups had to be determined. Pay status is the most useful determinant for the purposes of this analysis. …

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