The 9-to-5 job: Challenging how we earn a living

(This is Part III in a series about challenging traditional measures of financial success. Part I was The “Ivory Tower”: Reconsidering the college investment. Part II was Challenging traditional measures of financial success: Homeownership.)

It was the first semester of my first year of college. My friend and I were driving around our small town, looking for something to eat. But we didn't have much money, so our options were limited. Chili's sounded good, but neither of us could really afford it.

“It's weird to think one day we won't have to worry about this,” my friend said. “In a few years, we'll graduate, and we'll have jobs that pay us like, $30,000 a year and we can go to Chili's whenever we want.”

This was 2001, so it wasn't just a crazy dream.

I imagined working 9 to 5, in an office, where I had a desk and salary with benefits, and at the end of the day, I went home and did whatever the hell I wanted with my life. At 19, that seemed almost too good to be true. I was really attached to the idea that, someday, I would earn tens of thousands of dollars a year and be able to more or less spend money the way I wanted.

My point is that was the idea back then: Go to college and get a steady, 9-to-5 job.

Years later, I'm starting to question this paradigm — and I'm not alone. We already talked about the way college is changing, but the workforce has been changing a lot too.

Questioning the Stats

We read that jobs are being created and unemployment rates are decreasing. For example, the Labor Department recently released data showing that 209,000 jobs have been created in the past six months. But while the unemployment rate has increased slightly from 6.1 percent to 6.2 percent, overall, it's been on a steady decline.

The GDP has been significantly and steadily growing since the recession, but unemployment remains a lingering problem. You've probably heard the argument before — Huffington Post contributor Mark Gongloff explains it well:

“Technically speaking, unemployment is the percentage of people in the ‘labor force' who don't have a job. To be counted in the labor force, you have to be looking for a job. One reason unemployment has fallen so quickly in recent years, from a peak of 10 percent back in 2009, is that a lot of people stopped looking for work. They took themselves out of the labor force. Once they stopped looking for work, they stopped being counted as ‘unemployed.' Voila, the unemployment rate goes down.”

Gongloff argues that the small increase in unemployment is actually a good thing — it might indicate that more people are returning to the workforce but they're just not immediately finding work. But the good news is, they are returning. Even if you argue that his assertion is questionable, it is still possible.

It will take time to truly see how employment has changed. But for now, it seems we're a country in transition.

The Rise of Self-Employment

When I was laid off last year, I considered going back to a full-time, 9-to-5job. But after being a freelancer for so long, and especially after losing one big client, I liked the idea of having multiple baskets in which to put my eggs. That was my biggest concern — if I accepted a full-time job, could I still freelance? I wanted to make sure I had a backup plan.

This way of thinking, explains Forbes' Kate Taylor, might be the norm for people my age. She writes:

“Millennials entered the job market in the wake of the recession … Millennials are conditioned to expect economic disruption, and have thus become risk adverse … job turn over and exploration of more flexible labor sources reveal Millennials' fear of putting all their (career) eggs in one basket.”

Not only that, but I couldn't even find a 9-to-5 job. Most jobs I interviewed for were part-time freelance gigs. And, sure, that probably comes with my industry — writing gigs are easier to get than writing jobs. But on the whole, freelance/self-employment seems to be increasingly popular lately.

A few years after the recession, the rate of self-employed workers significantly increased. According to Economic Modeling Specialists International, the number of self-employed workers increased from 1.3 million since 2001 to 10.6 million in 2012.

Yes, those numbers have since dropped. But experts say it might be less that people are returning to the traditional 9-to-5 job and more that they're working part-time jobs and then supplementing income on the side. So they're not exactly self-employed, but they're not working full-time either. Maybe it's not as easy as it seems to gauge the way people are changing how they work.

The “Grey Economy”

And then there's the “grey economy,” the idea that unemployment rates are dropping because many people simply work under the table and off the books. Nik Theodore, an urban planning professor at the University of Illinois, recently told the Los Angeles Times:

“This segment of the labor market is a barometer for the economy as a whole. As employment insecurity spreads across the economy, more and more workers are being forced to turn to the street, to odd jobs, to becoming on-call workers. The question is whether this is a cyclical change, a blip or a signal of something much more fundamental.”

Technology is another important factor to consider. We've been talking about this for years, technology replacing jobs. But it may become a more pressing concern in the near future. At a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Bill Gates said:

“Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don't think people have that in their mental model.”

Between the economy, the post-recession mind-set and the role of technology, the traditional 9-to-5 model of earning a living is being challenged. In short, we're adapting. But where will we go from here?

When I started writing this series of posts on challenging traditional models of financial well-being, it started off as one post. I just wanted to write about how we're in transition — how college and homeownership and the workforce are changing.

But there was a lot of information and points of discussion in each of those areas — and so much of it is debatable. Unemployment is a complex issue; and while I feel like self-employment is the way of the future, not everyone agrees with this. Some think unemployment is on the mend and people will return to the paradigm.

What do you think: Will we return to the traditional model of earning income from one steady source or will we adapt to the point that full-time jobs are no longer the norm?

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Taylor Lee
Taylor Lee
5 years ago

Frankly, I think the accumulation of wealth in small clusters makes it a necessity for most people to earn a living through traditional work (or, at least, working at a traditional company). It is heartening to think more people will be working on their own small businesses, but I think that’s more of a growth measure of the blogging community– which has a limited capacity– than an indication most jobs will be that way in the future.

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
5 years ago

Historically, the 9-to-5 job is the anomaly. Until the Industrial Revolution, most people lived and worked on the family farm. I think that the American Dream of home ownership came from our farm roots, when you were one of the “haves” if you owned your own farm. Now that the work day isn’t tied to shift work in the factory, it’s evolving again.

Robb @ Top Financial Advisor
Robb @ Top Financial Advisor
5 years ago
Reply to  Tina in NJ

+1. Exactly my thought.

Forget where I saw this (maybe here?) but the state was something along the lines of: “In 1800, only 20% of people received a paycheck, by 19xx, 90% of people did.” (Not sure about the exact numbers.)

Employment norms have changed before and they will change again. People will adapt. Institutions will take longer.

The transition may be painful.

Seth at Ectopistes
Seth at Ectopistes
5 years ago
Reply to  Tina in NJ
nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago

That all depends on the needs of our oligarch corporate overlords, doesn’t it? Most likely they’ll still provide 8/9-5 and benefits to the skilled workers that they need and the remaining folks will continue to be treated as cogs and denied benefits and given unreliable shift work at non-living wages. Unless the government steps in and regulates, but given that our oligarch corporate overlords have lobbying powers and are many politicians back-up job after leaving office…

adult student
adult student
5 years ago

Yes. This. In my own experience, working multiple part-time jobs with no benefits hasn’t been a choice that gives me more freedom than 9-5, it’s been a necessity in organizations where the goal is to save money on labor by hiring more, cheaper workers. Not all contract and freelance positions actually pay the premium they should to cover those forms of overhead employers usually pay, either. That means even if you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket, no basket actually has enough eggs to eat, so you’re just getting a different form of insecurity. I’m sure there are… Read more »

Scooze
Scooze
5 years ago

This is a good reason why education is still worthwhile. The income/wealth gap between the skilled and unskilled is widening. Sure there are a few enterprising souls who can strike out on their own and find gold, but the vast majority need skills to be on the right side of this equation.

All these articles about whether college is worthwhile (including Kristen’s) are focusing on the wrong things. The question is how to get the best education for the least amount of debt.

Bryan
Bryan
5 years ago

Technology has made it easier and less expensive for average people to become entrepreneurs. Thus, I think the traditional thinking of a 9-5 job will slowly go to the wayside. Will it go away forever? No. But unlike your opening statement, I never dreamed of having a job and working for someone else. I wanted to be my own boss. In June I left the workforce to do so. I have several friends, millennials and Gen Xers, all doing the same thing.

Dave LaLonde
Dave LaLonde
5 years ago

The traditional 9-5 job will always be around. But for sure, digital media has made it so easy for people to venture out and explore new ways to stream income.

getagrip
getagrip
5 years ago

I personally knew about a dozen folks who were laid off during the recession and none of them “quit” looking for employment and all are now technically employed even if it’s multiple part time jobs. Given the BLS definition of unemployed means a person was looking for work in just the past 4 weeks, I can see how a number drop off the chart especially in very depressed areas where people have stopped looking “officially” and are now relying on under the table and piecemeal income.

Marie
Marie
5 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

This, about a hundred times. Many of my colleagues are reporting that permanent full-time work in my field seems to be a luxury of the past. Semi-monthly contract work is now the norm, making employees bounce all over and letting companies cheat everyone out of health insurance.

Millionaires Giving Money
Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

Nice write up. As a Millennial I am also very risk averse and have several passive income streams so a job loss would not be so disastrous. I use the internet to make some side income and hopefully I’ll be able to turn it into a full time business. Great post, thanks for sharing.

SavvyFinancialLatina
SavvyFinancialLatina
5 years ago

First, can you believe we thought we were going to be rich once we graduated and started earning money? Sigh….growing up comes with more responsibilities.
Second, it’s hard for me to imagine a freelance life right now. I do the 50 hour work week at a corporation and it’s nice knowing there’s a paycheck every two weeks. IDK…I think one day when I feel financially secure I will venture out and do my own thing. I just don’t when.

Aldo@MDN
5 years ago

I think freelancing only applies to certain careers like writers, photographers, artist, etc. But you can’t really freelance science. I don’t know of a single freelancing Chemist. For some careers, you need the 9 to 5 or you’ll end up having to do something else. If you’re going to be a writer, a painter, an actor, or a musician for example, you don’t need to go to college because your talents could land you jobs or gigs. But no respectable company is going to hire a self-taught Doctor. I think teenagers should really think about what it is that they… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
5 years ago

I agree. My biggest concern is that there’s nothing out there preparing people to choose a career they will really enjoy/excel at until AFTER they’ve already put themselves into student load debt. Then they get a job in their field and find they hate it. I don’t claim to have any answers on how to fix that, but something needs to be done to try and prevent that. I’d love to go back to school but I have no idea what I want to do and just picking a major and investing a ton of money on a hunch seems… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Maybe co-op education? Students have the chance to try out different career paths and industries while earning money for school. (At some schools, students graduate with up to two years paid work experience)

I think it’s really difficult to choose a career path these days because things change so quickly. The career I’m in didn’t exist when I was in high school.

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

I agree with Post #10. I think it the 9-5 thing really depends on the career that you choose. I am in accounting and so is my husband. I work 8-4 daily with no overtime while my husband works a 40 hour work week with 12 hour days + weekends for quarter ends and year end. With regards to the future I’m not really sure what will be… I know that for accounting, cloud accounting is becoming really popular so a 9-5 job may not be necessary. When I was in school this was also my dream… steady income, good… Read more »

sarah
sarah
5 years ago

I don’t think too many people are choosing freelancing instead of 9-5 (and let’s be real, it’s 8-5 or 9-6). I’ve tried working for myself and working non traditional jobs and I much, much prefer the stability of my 9-5. I could bill a much higher hourly rate on my own but I’d have to give up the sure thing, plus health insurance, retirement, paid leave and quite a few other benefits. For those laughing at the idea that we would be “rich” after college, I do feel rich compared to how I was in college. I don’t make much… Read more »

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
5 years ago

Interesting article, but I question whether we are thinking about the full scope of jobs. So many of the full time jobs I can think of are ones that require post-high school education and where employers are trying to find the right fit, a quality employee, and turn-over costs are high because there is a steep learning curve. These include accountants, marketing, doctor’s offices, dentists/hygienists, vets, teachers & teacher aides, lawyers, construction, retail execs., commercial carriers, divers, etc. These type of jobs dominate our economy and will not go away. These will always be full time in my opinion because… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  phoenix1920

I was thinking the same thing — that 9-5 versus self-employed is a false dichotomy. I couldn’t have been a self employed teacher any more than my friends who are nurses could be self employed either — never mind the firemen, police officers, HR personnel, people who are in the military, etc. I do wonder if we’re seeing a reversal of sorts though. There’s a skilled labour shortage in parts of Canada because for the past few decades people discouraged their children from jobs in the trades and wanted them to pursue office jobs (despite their talents and personalities). Now… Read more »

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

All remarks here IMHO: If technology remained static, I could see a slow drift back to 9-5 jobs. But since advances in technology that ultimately replace people are continuing to be made, I think there will be increasing pressure to extend the current model: Full-time/overtime jobs with benefits for the small percentage of very talented, intelligent, and skilled workers, and part-time jobs without benefits for the bottom 95% or so. Businesses used to see workers as assets, now they see them as costly liabilities to replace with technology as much as possible. Without governmental intervention, i.e., changes to laws, I… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
5 years ago

The best way to branch out on your own, I believe, is to do so with the security of a steady anchor. When my husband lost his job in high-tech with the demise of Nortel, we were very fortunate in that I had a steady teaching job. I provided the anchor while he began a home business. It has taken years, but he is now successfully self-employed, and although he isn’t making as high an income as he did through the best of his high-tech days (at least, not yet) there is an excitement and creativity involved in self-employment that… Read more »

Simon Cave
Simon Cave
5 years ago

I think that we will see more and more freelance opportunities in the future.

Nowadays companies prefer outsourcing their tasks instead of hiring new employees simply because it’s cheaper to do so.

Freelance is basically the new job market!

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
5 years ago

Most people I know (including me) work an 8-5 job AND have one or more side jobs. Or they are attorneys and work 8 a.m. – midnight. Sigh.

Green Girl Success
Green Girl Success
5 years ago

I personally think the “9-5 ’til your 65” way of working is flat out unhealthy. Between getting ready for work, commuting and winding down, there is very little time during the week for personal pursuits. Giving 5 days to the boss and 2 days off is not work/life balance, in my opinion. Plus, waking up to an alarm clock is not a healthy way for our bodies to start the day. Additionally, if you are an office worker, you have a double whammy with a lack of: exercise, fresh air, sunlight and views. It reminds me of an animal kept… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

Yes! Human beings (nor animals as you mentioned) were meant to spend that much time in a climate-controlled setting…IMO. It was fine for me for 5-6 years, but it was really taking a toll on my mental and physical health. Don’t forget that after spending time in the job environment, many people have need to then go to another climate-controlled environment (the gym) to make up for all of the inactivity of the day, which even further reduces one’s free time. With my new jobs, I walk an average of 8 miles per day and am outside up to 10… Read more »

Sjdjoy
Sjdjoy
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

What are you doing where you get so much walking?

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

Definitely not for me nor my husband but those are the breaks unless you’re creative beyond the average person to be able to work a job in the creative field that takes you out of the office, young and able bodied to work as a fire fighter, smart (and young) to acquire the education to work in healthcare, etc.

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

Maybe if fulltime, “9-5” type jobs fall out of the norm, there will be more of a push to include similar benefits for part time jobs. Some part time employers are already on this idea and offer benefits (reduced, but still) to their part-time employees. Benefits such as paid time off, sick time, 401k, and health and dental insurance at discount rates. Since most part-time jobs pay much less than fulltime positions it would be wonderful to not have to take a paycheck hit for taking a day off, especially if you work multiple part time jobs and wouldn’t have… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

lmoot says: 11 September 2014 at 11:10 am (cont) Just think when the need for health and dental insurance just dwindles down to supplemental (I’m being optimistic here folks), what THAT will do to the fulltime labor market. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the lack of full-time positions, and of people’s interest and need for them, which finally pushes us to collectively call for public healthcare. I hope it happens in my working lifetime. After having my first experience with public health care when my sister had emergency surgery overseas, it made a terrible experience into a bearable one.… Read more »

Sjdjoy
Sjdjoy
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

What are your part-time jobs?

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago
Reply to  Sjdjoy

SJDJOY, I work as a guide in the interactive exhibits and sometimes get to host one of the shows at a zoo, and I also work as a tour guide in the education department at another zoo/themepark. One is a not-for-profit so the pay stinks, and the other is only slightly better, but some of the perks are that between the two jobs, thanks to a state-wide attraction share program for employees, I get to do almost every recreational thing in my state for free for myself and often for several family and friends at a time…including things that are… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
5 years ago

I have no idea what work model “we” will transition to, I just know that “I” am so over 9-5, or 8-6, or whatever you want to call it. December 31 will be my last day there, though my bosses don’t know it yet. I don’t have any plans past that but I’ll worry about that when it gets here. The only thing that keeps me motivated to go to work every day is knowing that it will soon come to an end.

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

I suspect where writing and other creative jobs are concerned, full time gigs are becoming less common due to supply and demand. If everyone and their dog wants to write — and many people are willing to write for free or less than minimum wage — then many companies will pursue the cheapest product possible. (Some companies will always pay for good quality)

Though, I do hope that trend reverses itself and more companies will realize they should pay for good quality content.

Ben @ The Wealth Gospel
Ben @ The Wealth Gospel
5 years ago

I sure hope the 9-to-5 mill doesn’t remain the norm. Millennials are seeking different avenues because they want flexibility and autonomy. They don’t want to have to ask their company if they can go spend time with their friends or family like a five-year-old would her parents.

The rise of the Internet has certainly made it possible for people to get the flexibility they are looking for. I’m just wondering when corporations are going to start to catch on and allow for that flexibility and autonomy.

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

(cont) Just think when the need for health and dental insurance just dwindles down to supplemental (I’m being optimistic here folks), what THAT will do to the fulltime labor market. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the lack of full-time positions, and of people’s interest and need for them, which finally pushes us to collectively call for public healthcare. I hope it happens in my working lifetime. After having my first experience with public health care when my sister had emergency surgery overseas, it made a terrible experience into a bearable one. Our parents were already wiring us money in… Read more »

Emma @ Life. By Emma
Emma @ Life. By Emma
5 years ago

I have just turned 32 and haven’t gone back to Full time work since my son was born two years ago. My husband isn’t working in the traditional sense either. We are travelling long term and building a freelance business however we had no work in August so we are relying on savings and income from a rental property. We have no debt other than our mortgages and live a very frugal but fulfilling lifestyle. Last year we both took contract jobs at different times so one of us could be home with our son. I think the fact that… Read more »

Al-Amin Kabir
Al-Amin Kabir
5 years ago

Personally I’m happy with my own online business. Some of my friends are doing 9 to 5, and compared to them, I can say, I have more freedom, more financial Independence, and I can live my life however I want!

AMW
AMW
5 years ago

I am not a millenial, if I had been born just a year or two sooner I could have been a boomer. I never witnessed anyone in my family have a 9-5 job. Both sets of grandparents had family businesses, my parents worked shift work (a truck driver and a nurse) but never 9-5 and always with a side gig, my husband started in hospitality and always worked more than 40 hours, then he was in a corporate environment that expected him to work 365 days a year for a total of 75-90 hours per week, he now has an… Read more »

llm262
llm262
5 years ago

As someone from generation X all of my life to date ive had 9-5 jobs. After I was laid off I quickly picked up a on-demand part time job and then 5 months later found another 9-5 job. I still work the on demand job to diversify my income. I think on-demand work is the future. On demand roles offer a flexibiliy unmatched in any other job ive ever had, no work life balance issues. Mobile technology has made the workforce more flexible and will canibilize traditional 9-5 jobs.

Stephanie Ko
Stephanie Ko
5 years ago

I think we will have to adapt to the point that 9-5 jobs are no longer the norm. My husband and I went through a ton of education in hopes of obtaining secure 9-5 jobs. Once we entered the labor force we found employers who were hiring independent contractors only so that they can weasel out of paying their portion of FICA even when the job description did not fit the self – employed definition. Self- employment may be on the rise because of crooked bosses like these.

Donna Farrer
Donna Farrer
5 years ago

I really found this to be an interesting post. 9-5 jobs are a unicorn I think. You can’t make a living…I have been reading a very interesting book on finance and it’s unique because of it’s angle. It’s called The Joy of Skinny: Finances. It’s by 2 ladies Marcia Montgomery and Charla Aylsworth. They aren’t your average finance gurus, but their practical lessons are something to think about. Good read, their site is skinnylivingproject.com, sometimes we need to look at these times simply and not try so hard.

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