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Work at home: new findings from the Current Population Survey.

Work at home: new findings from the Current Population Survey

For some Americans, there is no separation of gainful work between the home and the workplace. A large number of persons regularly squeeze extra hours into their workweek by performing job-related chores at home. Others have completely eliminated the trip to work by setting up businesses or performing work-for-hire while at home.

In May 1985, the Bureau of Labor Statistics made its first attempt to determine the size of the home-based work force. Along with other questions on work practices, the respondents to the May survey were asked whether: "As part of . . . (the worker)'s regularly scheduled work, does . . . (he/she) do any of (his/her) work for . . . (the principal employer) at home?' Persons answering affirmatively were asked to estimate the number of hours of work done at home.

While more than 18 million people responded affirmatively, almost half of them worked at home for less than 8 hours a week. Another 770,000 were farmers or farm laborers. The remainder, nearly 8.4 million persons, had worked at home for 8 hours or more in the reference week, as part of a nonfarm job. They are the focus of most of the analysis which follows.

It should be noted that persons working at home on a second job or business were not counted among home-based workers. "Work-at-home' as defined here pertains only to work done as part, or as an extension, of one's primary job. Of course, given this definition, it is possible that persons who regularly bring work home, such as managers reading or writing memos at home, or teachers grading papers, might consider such work to be "regularly scheduled,' and will report it as home-based work.

Earlier studies

The May survey was the first specific attempt to estimate the size of the home-based work force. Other estimates had been available from secondary sources and private studies.1 For example, in response to a special congressional request, the Census Bureau had produced a tabulation on persons working at home from the data gathered as part of the 1980 census.2 The specific source for the study was a question on methods of travel to work, to which one possible response was "worked at home.' According to the data, about 2.2 million persons were identified as home-based workers. More than half (1.2 million) of homeworkers were self employed.

More recently, a privately conducted study was designed to study work-at-home styles. In a telephone survey, respondents were asked questions about work hours, job satisfaction, and computer usage in the home. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents cited working part-time at home as the "ideal work arrangement.'3

Who are "homeworkers'?

Of the 17.3 million persons with any home-based work in nonfarm occupations (regardless of the number of hours reported), about 9.6 million (55 percent) were men. (See table 1.) While men outnumbered women in the general classification of home-based work, women who worked at home had a stronger commitment to the home as a workplace. For example, women averaged 11.1 hours per week on home-based work, while men put in 9.3 hours. About 8 percent of the women worked 35 hours or more at home, compared with 4 percent of the men. Overall, there were 60 percent more women than men who worked the equivalent of a full-time, week at home.

Work at home appears to be a particularly attractive option for older persons, for whom the daily commute to work can be very tiring. Nearly one fifth of all nonfarm home-based workers working 35 hours or more weekly consisted of persons over 55 years of age, a group that accounts for only 1 in 8 of all employed workers.

The distribution of home-based work by race also showed slightly higher percentages of white workers than are found in the overall labor force. There were about 660,000 black and Hispanic workers with 8 hours or more of home-based work.

Industrial and occupational comparisons

Much of the interest in home-based work has centered around a few key industries and occupations. For example, it is believed that a growing number of clerical workers are opting to establish their own businesses at home, having been attracted by the idea of "being one's own boss.'4 Clerical workers such as secretaries, typists, forms processors, and data entry personnel have seen a drop in the cost of capital equipment that has enabled them to set up shop at home. Declining prices for personal computers and other electronic equipment have given many persons in professional service industries, such as financial records processing and bookkeeping, an opportunity to begin a business with very low startup costs.

Table 2 presents counts of home-based workers who worked for 8 hours or more at home by major nonagricultural industry group and sex. By far the largest industry group of home-based workers is in services. This category includes educational, professional, and business and repair services, as well as such social services as child care. Nearly 60 percent of women who worked 8 hours or more at home were in the services industry, compared with only 35 percent of the men.

The longer an individual's weekly hours of home-based work, the more likely he or she is to be engaged in a services industry. More than half of men and two-thirds of women in nonagricultural industries with long hours of home-based work were in service industries.

A more detailed look at home-based work in services is presented in table 3. Business and repaid services accounted for nearly 100,000 of the persons working full-time work-weeks at home. This category includes a variety of establishments, such as business management and consulting services and computer and data processing services. Social services, which encompass child care, accounted for 110,000 full-time home-based workers. Another 90,000 home-based workers were in "other professional services,' covering legal services, architectural services, religious organizations, and others.

Table 3 also presents counts by class of worker. It shows that among the universe of persons with 8 hours or more of home-based work in the reference week, the majority were private wage and salary workers, who may simply be bringing work home on a regular basis. However, among those who worked 35 hours or more, close to 70 percent were self-employed in home-based, unincorporated businesses. Fewer than 10 percent of all full-time home-based workers were self-employed but incorporated.

It is not possible to determine from the May 1985 data how many persons working at home use a computer in their work, or how many persons "telecommute' to their jobs.5 No specific questions on this topic were asked as part of the survey supplement. However, some insight about the effects of technological change on work practices can be gained by examining the distribution of home-based work by occupation. (See table 4). One of the largest occupational groups of home-based workers is in "financial records processing.' This category includes bookkeepers, accountants, and autitors, as well as persons operating billing, posting, and calculating machines.

The ranking of some occupations by incidence of home-based work might be surprising. This may be related to the fact that the May 1985 survey measured those who bring work home as well as those who have formally set up a home-based workplace. The difference between merely bringing some work home and doing all or most of one's work at home is often reflected in the number of hours worked at home. For example, teachers, who might grade papers or prepare lectures at home, accounted for 1.3 million of the 8.4 million nonfarm workers with 8 or more hours of such work, but virtually none of the teachers accumulated 35 or more hours at home. Similarly, while almost 40 percent of all employed managerial and professional specialty workers reported regular homework, only 270,000 of them accumulated full-time workweeks while at home. As noted earlier, a very large proportion of those with 35 or more hours of home-based work were in service occupations, and in particular, personal services.

Formalized arrangements rare

In standard classifications, the Bureau of Labor Statistics divides employed workers into three class-of-worker categories --wage and salary, self-employed, and unpaid family workers. For purposes of comparability with the Bureau's establishment data, those workers who are the nominal employees of corporations which they own--the "self-employed incorporated'--are treated as wage and salary workers. In our analysis, however, these workers are displayed separately, leaving an "all other wage and salary workers' category that consists entirely of persons employed by someone else.

Table 5 displays a breakdown of home-based workers according to this classification. It suggests that formalized business arrangements are rare for the typical home-based worker. Fewer than 7 percent of those working full time at home in nonagricultural jobs were incorporated. For agriculture and nonagriculture combined, about 2 of every 3 home-based workers who worked 35 hours or more were operating as unincorporated self-employed businesspersons.

Children and home-based work

Home-based work offers a chance for some persons with children to more effectively combine the roles of parent and worker. Elimination of commuting and child-care expenses can be a strong incentive for households with young children to experiment with home-based work. About 600,000 married mothers of children under 6 years of age reported some home-based work. (See table 6.) More than one-fifth of such women worked at home for 35 or more hours as part of their contribution to the job market.

In general, there were slight differences between women and men working in homes with young children. However, among nonfarm workers with 35 hours or more of home-based work, there were three times as many women with very young children as there were men.

Working exclusively at home

Using responses from the regular portion of the Current Population Survey as well as those from the May supplement, it is possible to compare the hours worked at home with all work hours during the previous week and thus identify persons working "entirely' at home. The classification showed 2.2 million persons working exclusively at home in May 1985. (See table 7.) About 390,000 of those working exclusively at home were in farming occupations, leaving almost 1.9 million persons as the home-based work force. About two-thirds of these were women.

As might be expected, the hours of persons working solely at home were far higher than the overall averages for home-based work. Where work was conducted exclusively within (or from) one's home, men averaged 41.1 hours, while women totaled 27.7 hours. About half of the persons whose work was entirely home based were in service industries, such as professional services, business and repair services, and personal services. Only about 100,000 of the persons with home-based work in professional specialty occupations, which includes computer programming as a subset, worked entirely at home.

Restricted industries

In the 1940's, following a series of public hearings, the Labor Department moved to restrict home-based work in a number of narrowly defined industries. This recently critized and reevaluated "patchwork' of regulations was directed toward those activities which had been found to be in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The seven industries were: women's apparel, jewelry, gloves and mittens, knitted outerwear, buttons and buckles, handkerchiefs, and embroidery. Homework in those industries was permitted for individuals meeting specific certificate requirements. The recent arguments surrounding home-based work have crystalized around these apparel and accessory industries.6

The May 1985 data do not allow an accurate determination of the number of persons whose home-based work is in the various restricted industries. The industrial classification used in tabulating these data no longer coincides with the 1940's-based industry definitions upon which the restrictions were based. Some of the restricted industries extend across multiple classifications in the current data, or fall into a highly aggregated "all other' category, which includes industries in addition to the restricted one. However, it is possible to create an upper-bound estimate of the total number of persons affected by the restrictions by adding up workers in every detailed industry classification which overlaps with the restricted industries. Using the finest available breakdown of industries,7 it was estimated that the maximum number of persons working 8 hours or more at home in restricted industries could not exceed 125,000, and the number working 35 hours or more was below 20,000. About 90,000 of these persons were in either the apparel industry --which includes both restricted and unrestricted work-- or the jewelry industry. The total was evenly divided among men and women. Because this was the first time this survey has been conducted, it is not possible to determine if this number of homeworkers has been increasing or decreasing.

1 Margrethe Olson, Overview of Work-at-Home Trends in the United States (New York, New York University, August 1983.)

2. U.S. Bureau of the Census, unpublished data prepared for the House Subcommittee on Employment and Housing, April 1986.

3 Electronic Services Unlimited, New York, NY, conducted a National Work-at-Home telephone survey in 1986 to determine work habits, buying needs, and preferences of home-based workers.

4. For a thorough review of home-based clerical work, see chapter 7, "Home Based Office Work,' Automation of America's Offices, OTA-CIT-287 (Washington, Office of Technology Assessment, December 1985); or National Research Council, Office Workstations in the Home (Washington, National Academy Press, 1985).

5. Joanne H. Pratt, "Home Teleworking: A Study of its Pioneers,' Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 25, 1984, pp. 1-14.

6 For a complete listing of Federal restrictions, see Federal Register "Department of Labor 29 CFR Part 530, Employment of Homeworkers in Certain Industries, Final Rule, November 5, 1984,' and "Regulations, Part 530: Employment of Homeworkers in Certain Industries (U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, WH Publication 1026, March 1980). For a viewpoint of organized labor on the issue of computer homework, see "AFL-CIO Resolution on Computer Homework' in Office Workstations in the Home.

7 The estimate was created using a list matching restricted industries with census detailed industry codes, provided by Mike Ginley, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor.

Table: 1. Employed persons working at home, by age, sex, and hours worked at home, May 1985

Table: 2. Employed persons in nonagricultural industries with 8 hours or more of home-based work, by industry and sex, May 1985

Table: 3. Employed persons in the services industry with 8 hours or more of home-based work, by class of worker, May 1985

Table: 4. Employed persons working at home, by major and selected nonfarm occupations and hours worked at home, May 1985

Table: 5. Percent distribution of employed persons with 8 hours or more of home-based work, by class of worker and sex, May 1985

Table: 6. Employed married persons with 8 hours or more of home-based work, by presence and age of children, and sex, May 1985

Table: 7. Employed persons working entirely at home by sex, occupation, industry, and hours worked at home, May 1985
COPYRIGHT 1986 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:home labor
Author:Horvath, Francis W.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Nov 1, 1986
Previous Article:Missed work and lost hours, May 1985.
Next Article:Overtime work: an expanded view.

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