More people need second jobs, fewer can find them

A ''Now Hiring'' sign is seen in the store front window in Miami, Fla.

We have an economic puzzle. Since the Great Recession, the number of people stuck working part-time -- because they can’t find a full-time job or can't get full-time hours -- is way up. The number has roughly doubled since 2007, from approximately 4 million to 8 million.  

At the same time, there’s been a sharp drop in the number of people who are holding down multiple jobs, and most of those are likely to be part-time, since there are only so many hours in a day. The number of multiple job-holders is down by more than 500,000 since 2007.  So, there are more people in part-time jobs, but fewer people able to cobble together two or more of those jobs to make ends meet.  

Explaining the first part of this economic conundrum is relatively straightforward. It’s the recession. Jobs are still hard to find. Well-paying full-time jobs are even harder to find.

“I’m used to working three to four jobs, historically, because I never seem to work jobs that pay me any money, so I need to work a lot of them,” says Justine Pope.

This reporter met Pope while she was eating a bagged lunch in a park in downtown Portland, Ore., during her mid-day break. Pope is 27. Count back to the late 2000s, when she graduated from Whitman College in Washington. Pope has pretty much never seen a healthy job market. “I farmed, I waitressed, I landscaped, and I nannied,” says Pope. “And I never earned more than $18,000 in a year. I know it’s shocking. So I feel like I’m doing OK now.”  

Pope feels like she’s in OK shape now because she’s found two jobs -- legal assistant and research assistant. Each gives her about 20 hours per week, and together they pay just enough to cover her bills.

This trend to more part-time work could be permanent. Employers like the flexibility, and the low cost. Benefits in many part-time jobs -- health care, retirement -- are slim to none.  

But there’s a complication. For job-seekers, it’s now harder to find and keep multiple part-time jobs. “Among low-wage employers -- retail, hospitality, food service -- employers are requiring their employees to say they’re available for a full-time schedule, even when they know they’re never going to schedule them for full-time,” says Stephanie Luce at the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute.

Luce is a labor sociologist who studies union movements around the world. She co-authored, with the Retail Action Network, a study based on surveys of retail workers in New York, Discounted Jobs: How Retailers Sell Workers Short. “Managers are asked to schedule based on customer-flow, on weather, on trends in the economy, and to change the schedule day-to-day,” says Luce. “They don’t want employees that are going to say ‘I can’t come in, I have another job.’ They want employees that’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll come in if you need me. I won’t come in if you don’t need me.’”  

You don’t have to go further than the nearest fast-food joint to see this trend. Devonte Yates is 21, and works at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee. He lives with his mother and little sister. Yates is getting an associate’s degree in criminal justice, so he’s paying tuition, a cell phone bill, plus rent to his mother and helping with the groceries. He’s paid minimum wage: $7.25 per hour. Yates’s bus ride to work takes 90 minutes, and costs him $4.50 round trip.

“The schedule comes out Fridays,” says Yates. “However, it is subject to change -- at least that’s what’s written at the bottom of the schedule. Sometimes you can work a 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., and then the very next day have to be back at 6 in the morning. They schedule you so randomly that it’s pretty much impossible to find another job.”  

Yates says he worked two jobs previously -- at Walmart and at a local company that provides phone-captioning services to the deaf. Those employers, he says, allowed him to work consistent, non-overlapping schedules. But Yates says the 24-hour McDonald’s where he works expects employees to offer ‘open availability' or basically, to be on-call all the time. Sometimes, it’s  for a two-hour shift; sometimes, an eight-hour shift.  

The owner of the Milwaukee McDonald's franchise where Yates works, Deborah Allen, provided a written statement to Marketplace by email, in response to questions about her restaurants' scheduling practices: “I value my employees and their time spent in our restaurants. We try to work with all of our employees to provide flexible scheduling options that meet both the needs of the employee and the restaurant.” 

There’s management-speak for this trend in on-call worker-scheduling expectations, says Stephanie Luce: ‘just-in-time scheduling.’

“I was just reading a retail consulting report," says Luce, "that said this was the main area in which businesses could achieve profit -- using labor-scheduling technologies. Employers want to reduce their cost. It was excess inventory in the ‘90s. And now it’s excess employment. This is a way for them to cut down on labor costs, and in theory shift it from a fixed cost to a variable cost that could shift with consumer demand.”

Meanwhile, multiple office-job holder Justine Pope  says she likes the variety of having so many jobs. She’s also tired of having so many jobs. “I know my situation is certainly not sustainable long-term,” says Pope. “I would hope to not work so many jobs or so hard my entire life.”

The thing is, she just might.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
Log in to post6 Comments

Thanks for the article!
Unfortunately, this trend is not limited to young graduates. I left retail and went back to college in the late-70s because I couldn't get full-time work or benefits. Unfortunately, both of my career choices-- journalism, ESL and college teaching-- offer few full-time positions and while the hourly pay is better, the hours are never enough and the benefits minimal. The last teaching job I had wanted me to come in sometimes only for an hour a day.
I don't think unions are the answer, but government and business need to work together to resolve this.

The main problem nowadays is to find the good job. A part-time job is not a good alternative. How it is possible for people to live for those salaries? The only way for them is to turn to services like: http://britainloans.co.uk/. It’s quite difficult to find any job today. That is why people are happy having any part-time job. But on the other hand more people have part-time job, less people can find job. The government should regulate the amount of the jobs which person can have for stabilization the amount of the unemployed people. Hope that will decrease the unemployment in our country.

This trend may be on the upswing, but I have been aware of it -- and living it -- for the past 41 years. Unfortunately, when I was a young graduate with an MA, I didn't want to believe it. It would be different for me! However, as it has turned out, my part-time temporary status became "permanent part-time temporary" status in whatever line of work I pursued in the public or private sector: community college instructor, executive assistant, freelancer, writer, tutor, artist and even singer! A "Freeway Flier," I pieced together an income by living by my wits. Some would be envious of the variety of jobs I've had and the flexibility of my schedule, but it's come at a cost -- to which your story attests -- low income, no job security and on-again off-again benefits. I would recommend to Ms. Page that she accept the reality of the situation and hedge her bets: develop your abilities and as many skills as you can so you can be versatile and chameleon-like. Not everyone has the intelligence, talent and/or training to be an astrophysicist, a brain surgeon or whatever the high paying job is of the moment. Remember, specialization leads to extinction: you have to adapt. And support your union!

How can this be a great nation if it treats people as if they were water or electricity, always there on demand, round the clock, every day of the year?

I agree that this is a force for unions or something similar to gain force once again.

My field is transportation where it seems not so long ago that the operators joined unions to get into regular eight hour jobs and away from very split shifts -- working both rush periods with time off in between, making for a long day and not home for both breakfast and dinner. My father called these jobs where a man could raise his family. He got that notion from his uncle, a manager in a city in the time of the Great Depression, who combined two seasonal jobs (winter snow work and summer outdoor work) into one, to make jobs where a man could support a family, and be with that family, too. It seems the Depression spawned management who had concern for people, and this century does not, on average.

A nation with no respect for its people is a bleak prospect. The fight for the eight hour day, same eight hours each day, and the forty hour week is clearly not over.

This was an excellent story, told from the right perspective to reveal the reason why this happens (unrestrained businesses) and the high price paid by the very real people doing low wage work. Yes, do check in on this from time to time.

Interesting trend. I would like this report re-visited after Obamacare is fully implemented. From published reports some retail stores are keeping hours to part-time levels to avoid providing healthcare.

I am betting in about a decade the unions will start to grow again as people continue to work unpredictable schedules without benefits.

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