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Workers are picking up extra jobs just to pay for daily necessities

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A man walks past a "We're Hiring" sign outside a restaurant.

"Most people who have the ability to work from home are probably making a little bit more money, whereas the people who were risking their lives and people who are bus drivers or people who are health care workers are really feeling the pinch right now," says Lauren Kaori Gurley of The Washington Post. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that U.S. employers added 528,000 jobs in July. The strong labor market means more opportunity for workers to switch careers or take on extra work. But many people who are taking on a second or third job are doing so because they need to — one income just isn’t enough to cover daily necessities like gas or food. 

“Marketplace” host Kimberly Adams spoke with Lauren Kaori Gurley of The Washington Post, who wrote about how inflation is a big motivation for people taking on extra work. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Lauren Kaori Gurley: Even though hourly earnings are up for workers across the country, these wage increases are being wiped out by inflation. Since the pandemic happened, the number of people taking on second jobs has been steadily increasing. And so when I looked most recently into this, it actually turns out that more workers in the United States right now than ever before are working two full-time jobs. The reason why you would probably take on two extra jobs right now is because there are so many jobs, the job market is very strong and because you’re you’re struggling from inflation.

Kimberly Adams: I think it’s worth sort of pulling out that detail because that data point was pretty wild in your story: More workers hold two full-time jobs than at any other point since BLS, Bureau of Labor Statistics, started collecting this data in 1994. I think most of us are used to people maybe having a full-time job, and then a part-time job. But you’re talking two full-time jobs just to keep up with rising prices.

Gurley: Right. So that’s over 70 hours a week — or 70 hours a week minimum — which means, like, you have your day job, and then you’re moonlighting full time with a second job. And you know, a lot of these people are likely working close to minimum-wage jobs, so the people I interviewed for this story said, “Just to be able to get to work to make money, I need to fill up my tank of gas. But once I fill up my tank of gas, that wipes out my entire earnings from my first job, so then I’m taking on a second job,” if that makes sense.

Adams: Yeah, because one of the things that struck me is that many of the workers who can’t cut back on gas — which is one of the areas where we’ve seen some inflation, even though gas prices are going down — many of these workers who can’t cut back on gas because they don’t have the option of remote work are also the folks who had to keep showing up in person for work throughout the pandemic. And it seems that that’s really becoming a dividing line in this economy.

Gurley: Yeah, so most people who have the ability to work from home are probably making a little bit more money, whereas the people who were risking their lives and people who are bus drivers or people who are health care workers are really feeling the pinch right now.

Adams: Now that interest rates are up again, what do you think that’s going to do for these folks? And what does it mean for them?

Gurley: That’s a great question. You may see this trend actually start to sort of die off a bit of people taking on extra jobs and really just see an increase in joblessness, if we’re headed toward a recession.

Adams: And that’s the big “if” everyone’s wondering about.

Gurley: Right.

Adams: You wrote in your piece that while people taking on multiple jobs is typically a sign of a healthy job market, it’s also a sign of increasing financial strain on people’s pocketbooks. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Gurley: Sure. So when the job market is in a good place, there’s an excess of jobs, but because inflation is also high, that means that people aren’t — like the money they have is going less far, so they have to spend more money to get the things that they would normally get, like food, housing, gas, etc. It makes a lot of sense that this sort of lines up with the data that we’re seeing because there are jobs available and because they need that extra cash just to make ends meet.

Adams: Must be exhausting though.

Gurley: I mean, yeah, I couple of people I spoke to about this who had taken on second jobs over the past few months, you know, sort of broke down in tears on the phone just like talking about how, especially people with kids, how difficult it is for them right now to make ends meet, to you know, even know like, “Am I going to be homeless next month?” Rents are insanely high in certain cities like New York right now.

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