March 30, 2021
Working Multiple Jobs to Make Ends Meet
If people need to work and can work, they will work. That’s my takeaway from a new set of data that sketches a clearer picture of U.S. workers who are holding down multiple jobs.
Nearly 8 percent of workers had two or more jobs in 2018, the latest year of data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. The data also show that holding two or more jobs becomes more common during economic expansions, when jobs are plentiful, and falls during recessions, when the opportunities dry up.
But the longer-term trend is up: the share of people holding multiple jobs has slowly increased over the past two decades. In a recent webinar, Census Bureau economist James Spletzer provided a couple of reasons.
First, the country has lost millions of manufacturing jobs over several decades. They have been replaced by lower-quality jobs in retail and in service industries like health care, hotels and food preparation – and that’s where multiple job holders tend to work.
A second, related reason for working in multiple jobs is the “stagnation of earnings at the lower end of the earnings distribution,” Spletzer said.
The wages from these supplemental jobs contribute significantly to workers’ standard of living, accounting for nearly 28 percent of their total earnings. Multiple job holders earn about $54,000 per year on average – $15,000 of that from working consistently in a second or even third job for a full year. People who work in a single job earn $63,000 on average.
Multiple job holders are more likely to be women: 9.1 percent of working women held two or more jobs in 2018, up from 7.5 percent in 1996. They account for most of the modest increase overall. The men held steady over that time.
“In order for people to avoid poverty, they need to take on multiple jobs to make ends meet,” Spletzer said.
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