Characteristics and Well-Being of Adults with Nonstandard Work Arrangements

Man stands in empty restaurant.

Adults in nonstandard work arrangements experience greater hardship than workers with more traditional forms of employment.



The Issue

Individuals in nonstandard work arrangements, including temporary work, contract positions, and those in the "gig" economy, struggle to pay for housing, food, and healthcare at measurably higher rates than their counterparts in more traditional fields and professions, according to analysis of available data.

The experiences of these workers are a growing concern for policymakers. Though many workers with nonstandard employment prefer these arrangements to more traditional jobs, the lack of benefits and protections associated with a traditional employer-employee relationship, particularly for low-wage workers, could undermine the well-being of workers and their families.

Key Findings

  • In December 2020, more than one in four employed nonelderly adults (25.9%) was engaged in nonstandard work, including nearly one in five (19.4%) who reported nonstandard work at their main job.

    ·       Regarding individuals with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), 58.4 percent of those in nonstandard work arrangements reported material hardship compared to 47.7 percent of traditional workers.

  • Workers in traditional employment arrangements were much likelier to have employee-sponsored health insurance than workers with nonstandard jobs (80.9% versus 55.4%).

  • Nearly 26 percent of employed non-elderly adults are employed through nonstandard work arrangements.

  • Nonstandard work arrangements were most common among low-income workers.


Researchers determine that a strong connection exists between alternative work arrangements and material hardship, especially among lower-income workers. 

About the Urban Institute

The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. Visit the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center for more information specific to its staff and its recent research.