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KAI RYSSDAL: For a lot of people, the craziness on Wall Street seems pretty far away. As food and gas prices have gone up, they’ve already had to make the tough choices. Which bills to pay. What not to buy. And how to find extra money. Some are taking second jobs to make ends meet. The number of people looking for more work is growing as the economy stumbles. Which makes them clearly interested in the outcome of this election.
In today’s installment of our election series “Interested Parties,” Chicago Public Radio’s Adriene Hill asked the working poor what, if anything, they want from a new president.
ADRIENE HILL: Lorenzo Smith is not a man with a lot of free time. I caught him on a Sunday afternoon doing his laundry at The Washing Well, a coin laundry in a working-class section of Chicago’s North Side. He’s a man in good spirits, even as he tells me times are hard.
LORENZO SMITH: I don’t even classify myself as middle class. I just classify myself as barely getting by.
Smith says he lives paycheck to paycheck. He used to have a good job as a computer operator for a local hospital but it was outsourced. Since 1999, he’s been working two jobs to get by. He’s got to fit in chores like laundry where he can. He works 62 hours a week.
And what does he think the next administration could do to help?
SMITH: I think a lot of the outsourcing is one of the things. All of the jobs have went overseas. Even some of the mediocre jobs are not even here anymore.
HILL: And so do you think the next president could sort of bring those jobs back?
SMITH: Yep. He needs to. He really needs to. Because we’re depending on our overseas economy for everything. We used to be able to take care of our own but we can’t now.
Smith says he’s always looking for a better job. A job that could be his only job. But he says there’s just too much competition out there.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 5 percent of the U.S. workforce works more than one job. And it may be higher than that.
NICK THEODORE: The statistics, I don’t think, are picking up all of this phenomenon.
Nick Theodore teaches urban economic development at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
THEODORE: There are many people that are getting paid off the books, on the side, picking up other jobs, odd jobs and other types of work, that just simply aren’t being recorded.
There are a lot of reasons people take that second job. Some are looking for other opportunities, a way to get ahead, to get that next job. But Theodore says a lot of others are working that second job out of necessity.
THEODORE: The pressures that households are facing are not confined just to the working poor. I think it really, this kind of insecurity and those pressures have been moving up the income spectrum for the last 8 or 10 years.
That’s the position Abby Mayor finds herself in. As she waits for the wash cycle to finish at Kedzie Coin Laundry, she tells me she’s planning to find a second job. She’s a customer service representative and has never had to work two jobs.
ABBY MAYOR: I’ve always tried to stable it out. But it’s not that easy anymore. Like, car repairs, something always happens and you’re back down again. No matter how much you try to save, something always happens and you’re back to square one.
The cost of her commute is killing her. She says she’ll look for something in retail to help pay for everyday things like gas and food. She hopes the next administration could do something to help with those expenses.
MAYOR: Hopefully, lower the gas prices and make it something where, you know, the cost of living actually balances out with what your making.
But she’s not optimistic that either candidate will do anything to help increase her salary.
MAYOR: If our companies were to give us bigger pay raises that would help, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. They just use us and like you’re just a number really. They’ll find somebody else that could do it, the same work for less pay.
All she’s got is hope that the next president can do something to make life a little easier.
In Chicago, I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.
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