As I write this, I am on vacation. And I'm not just working for GRS while on my break. I'm posting on social media for six other clients, and writing freelance pieces for two other websites.
So when I say I am on vacation, I really mean that I am working in a house that is not my own, with a lovely view of a beach. Since being laid off from my traditional full time job three years ago, I have fashioned a working life that involves working for multiple entities, doing multiple tasks.
Staying afloat when prospects are slim
My most stable employer provides 25 hours a week (but it's also the lowest paying). The rest range anywhere from 3 to 10 hours a week, depending on what's happening and what's needed. Some of the work is seasonal. Some clients pop up for a few hours' work and then disappear for months.
I'm not complaining. I love what I do, and I have fun doing it. But juggling multiple employers, all with different needs and different temperaments, seven days a week, 365 days a year …
Well, let's just say I hope I'm not still doing this when I'm 65.
My income fluctuates, sometimes wildly, from month to month. And I never stop hustling for that next job in order to make sure we have enough coming in to keep the ship afloat.
I created this employment scenario because, after I was laid off, it became clear pretty quickly that I was not going to find a comparable full-time job in my area, especially at my age (50 at the time). And I am far from alone. Since The Great Recession began, America's part-time workforce has grown exponentially. It's called a ‘gig economy,' and it means there are millions of Americans who subsist on multiple part-time jobs to get by.
Involuntary part-time workers
According to the US Department of Labor, in 1968 (when they first started collecting this information), 13.5% of US employees were part-timers. That number peaked at 20.1% in January 2010, a direct result of the massive downsizing that took place during the Great Recession. The latest data point, is 18.2% (last month). In July 2016, there were 5.9 million people categorized as “persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers)”… “These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.”
Speculating on cause
Some also speculate that the relative stability of that part-time figure since the end of the Great Recession was triggered by the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers of large businesses to offer healthcare coverage for employees who work 30 hours or more per week (as of 2015). Many large companies, including Walmart, Target, Trader Joe's, and Home Depot lowered the number of hours that employees worked to avoid paying health care. Technically, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not define full-time employment or part-time employment, leaving it up to the employer. Anecdotally, part time is fewer than 35 hours a week.
In an article on CNN.com, Chris Tilly, a UCLA economics professor, notes that many part-timers are paid less per hour than full-time workers with the same responsibilities. They're more likely to lose their jobs than full-time workers and they often have no health benefits or paid time off.
What it's like for people
I have lots of friends and relatives who work multiple jobs. My husband works a full-time job and a part-time job. Others work a full-time job and drive Uber, or sell their handicrafts, or pick up occasional freelance work as needed. It seems these scenarios are more the norm than the traditional 9-to-5 job that offers nights and weekends off and two vacations a year. I mean, really? Do you know anyone living that life?
We asked our friends on the Get Rich Slowly Facebook page what their employment picture looked like, and received a variety of interesting responses. Many work multiple jobs — although, according to them, it's by choice. Clear, too, is that ‘full time' is typically far more than 40 hours a week, with many reporting they work 45 to 60 hours as their regular work week, and then add a part-time gig on top of it.
Here's a sampling:
Three jobs: “3 part time. Freelance bookkeeping/taxes. In CA it's almost impossible to find a good full time position that pays well. I make triple what I used to working 40 for one job. Working 30 hours for 3 companies.”
Two jobs: “I left full employment last year. I am trying to set myself up with a few part time jobs. Right now i have 2, and am looking for a 3rd.”
Two jobs: “2 Paid, if you count a freelance writing venture I just started (already got and finished my first paid gig writing 2 press releases for an Australian music label). The second one is as a sales assistant (cold calling, up-selling, follow-up, etc) I have also taken over the bookkeeping of the bookkeeper. That's my mon – fri 9-4.”
One job: “I work one very part time job, while my husband works a full-time job. Daycare is ridiculously expensive, so I only work weekends. When i do work weekends I work the overnight shift, sleep until about 11am and spend some time with my family. It works out well.”
Three jobs: “I have one full-time salaried job, and two “side-hustles”: teaching piano lessons and selling knitted toys I make. I don't think I'd ever be able to focus on just a single moneymaking pursuit.”
Sometimes I miss the stability (monotony?) of the single, full-time job. I did take an actual vacation back at the end of June, and the amount of work I had to do in advance of taking those seven days actually off almost killed me. It's actually less stressful to just keep working, in the house that isn't mine, with a lovely view of a beach.
What's it like for you? Tell us in the comments…
Author: Elissa Bass
Elissa Bass is a nationally award-winning journalist who has been a reporter and editor for both print and online publications for 30 years. After a layoff in 2013, she now runs her own marketing/social media/PR company. Born and raised in western Massachusetts, she makes her home in Stonington, CT with her husband, their two children, and their rescued pit bull. Visit her website at http://www.elissabass.com/ to learn more.