Contingent Chicago: Restructuring the Spaces of Temporary Labor


Hiring‐halls, specializing in the placement of day‐laborers in temporary jobs, have in recent years been proliferating along major transport arteries in Chicago’s low‐income neighborhoods. This article examines the phenomenon of low‐wage temporary work in Chicago from the perspective of the principal institutional actors in these highly ‘flexibilized’ or ‘contingent’ labor markets – the ‘temp’ agencies. Particular emphasis is placed on the labor‐market effects of temp‐agency strategies, both in respect to patterns of labor segmentation and in terms of the spatial (re)constitution of urban job markets. It is suggested that temp agencies are actively engaged in both the exploitation and facilitation of contingent labor‐market conditions. In this sense, they are assuming important new roles as privatized ‘labor‐market intermediaries’, with apparently deleterious effects for job security and social segregation in the lower reaches of urban labor markets. Their strategies can also be related to the social and geographic restructuring of these job markets, because the growth and polarization of temp employment has been associated with a ‘hardening’– and indeed ‘stretching’– of extant ethnic, gender and spatial inequalities.