Why Are More People Working Multiple Jobs?

Why Are More People Working Multiple Jobs?

Elizabeth Silas-Havas

More Americans are working multiple jobs than anytime in the past eight years. This movement gained speed just after the 2008–9 recession, but in the past year multiple-job holders have continued to increase, from 7.3 million to 7.8 million:

  • A small percentage of the workforce works two full-time jobs (from 0.27% in 2015 this rose to 0.32% of those employed)
  • Some work multiple part-time jobs (up just a bit from 2.0% in 2015 to 2.1%)
  • Most work a combination of a full-time plus one or more part-time jobs (climbing from 3.9% in 2015 to 4.3%)

The past year’s uptick also demonstrates a long-term gender disparity: more women have been taking on multiple jobs than men. In fact, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track in 1994, women have been more likely to work multiple jobs than men, and the gender difference has been getting greater, not smaller.

Employers Can’t Hire Full-Time Workers Fast Enough

Job openings came close to an all-time high in July 2016 at 5.8 million, dropping a bit to 5.4 in August. The unemployment rate, now close to 5%, indicates that the pool of available workers is limited. At the same time, the average mean vacancy duration (aka the time to fill metric) for job openings continues to trend upward over time.

With so many open jobs, a tight labor market, and the average time to fill openings increasing, some employers may be turning full-time positions into part-time just to get someone in place quickly.

In addition, some employers simply prefer to hire part-time workers. Doing so allows them to avoid the expenses of Social Security, Medicare, health plans, 401k plans, vacation time, and sick time. Part-time workers are also easier to schedule on an as-needed basis, which can save even more money, especially as a lower salary threshold for overtime pay takes effect this December.

However, this approach has less appeal for filling positions that require people to plan for long-term organizational or project goals; to engage in extensive training, experience, or continuing education; or to develop the kind of loyalty and proactive attitude that benefits the company culture and brand (of course, that last trait might be one a company wants all employees to develop).

Some Employers Are Raising Part-Time Wages to Attract Workers

Predictions are bright for the 2016 holiday retail season, prompting large seasonal hiring plans again this year, as we described last year. The National Retail Federation reports that high on consumers’ requirements for both online and brick-and-mortar shopping is ease of purchase, so retailers are searching for ways that both technology and people can make check-out faster.

This year, online companies are gearing up earlier than usual to compete for seasonal workers, and the hourly rates are expected to go up $1.50 to $3.00 per hour from the typical fourth-quarter rates. Those more attractive part-time wages prompt people to take on more jobs.

The Gig Economy Enables Flexible Working Arrangements

The gig economy seems to be continuing to grow by some reports. It’s hard to get a hold on because a lot of short-term contracted work that is considered “gig” (like Uber and TaskRabbit as well as lots of jobs that are not yet widely related to apps, such as lawn services and therapists) or “sharing” (like Airbnb) or “marketplace” (like Etsy or eBay) is not represented in the statistics about multiple-job holders. Companies are just not required to report much information on workers who are not actually their employees—that is, the people working for them who are independent, short-term contractors. Thus, gig economy predictions have been widespread, but data has been elusive.

CNBC and the Brookings Institute, however, are now estimating that gig workers have increased 27% over the past 20 years—and much more in some industries, such as ground transportation, which has seen a 44% increase. A few areas have seen a large rise in gig employment while also seeing a drop in payroll employment, notably in the ground transportation and accommodation industries. It’s not yet clear if there are other industries or geographic areas where gigs are replacing full-time, traditional employment.

Gigs are definitely making it easier than ever to take on another job, because companies like Uber and Upwork let you choose when and how much to work. It turns out that it’s not only consumers who want a streamlined interface. Qualified workers looking for part-time jobs, freelance gigs, or even full-time employment gravitate toward employers who make the application process faster and more responsive. When an organization needs tech-savvy applicants, even for temporary positions in IT, customer service, or delivery, a streamlined application experience can boost the quality (and quantity) of new hires.

Some Workers Have No Choice But to Work Multiple Jobs

People are working multiple jobs for different reasons. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates “independent workers”—those who are paid by task, assignment, or sales and are more autonomous than typical full-time, one-job employees—to be 20 to 30% of those employed in the U.S. and EU. Those workers fall into four categories:

  • 30% are “free agents” who make most of their money from their gig work
  • 40% are “casual earners” who choose to do gig work to supplement their income
  • 14% are “reluctants” who make most of their money from gig work but would prefer a traditional job
  • 16% are “financially strapped” and do gig work out of necessity

Those who actively chose to work gigs were “happier than people in traditional jobs by every measure,” according to Susan Lund of McKinsey, but those who were reluctant or strapped were not.

Younger workers are feeling the crunch of student debt and, in some places, expensive housing costs, which may compel them to take on gigs or multiple part-time jobs. A Heldrich Center study showed that 2009 and 2010 graduates from four-year programs earned a median starting salary of $27,000—and have on average $20,000 in student loans. Many of these graduates take on multiple jobs just to pay the rent, and their difficulties may multiply when their gig and part-time work pay doesn’t increase as they move into their 30s, or when they realize they have less time to save for retirement. Even so, multiple-jobbers interviewed in the New York Times varied in their attitudes; several of them said they were happier juggling several jobs than working one.

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