The side hustle is back

As costs rise, workers are patching together paychecks to make ends meet or build a nest egg

| 01 Nov 2022 | 09:59

Lizzy O’Connor, 26, is a nurse at Horizon Family Medical in Monroe, NY. And on weekends for the last year and a half, she’s a bartender working big events like weddings and corporate parties at the Barn at Villa Venezia in Middletown.

“I picked it up really just for extra cash,” she said of the weekend gig. “You know, my fiancé and I are getting married in July, so I’m just trying to save as much money as I can now, while I’m young,” she said. “I don’t want to be in debt going into the future, starting a family in a few years. I think this is the time to do it, to work our butts off now while we can.”

She’s determined to pay for her own wedding, and she plans to work both jobs up until she walks down that aisle. “A lot of people usually get help from their parents, but I just have a mindset I wanted to do it myself. You know, my parents really gave me everything in life, so I’m just trying to help them out as much as I can in trying to pay for it myself now,” said O’Connor, the youngest of four siblings.

Bartending brings in an average of $300 a night, on top of the $60,000 salary she makes as a nurse. The pandemic staffing shortage that plagued the service industry held a silver lining for O’Connor: she and just one other bartender would work even the hugest of weddings, taking home between $500 and $700 a night in tips. Now that her employer has staffed up, those tips get split three or four ways.

O’Connor manages to make it to the gym at 5 a.m. on mornings when she’s feeling “extra-motivated.” But her social life has, unsurprisingly, taken a back seat. “I feel bad, but I just know sometimes money’s a little more important than possibly going out to a restaurant and spending $100,” she said.

Her best friend understands, though, because she’s in the exact same boat. She even works for the same two companies as O’Connor – as an office manager and a bartender.

“We kind of have the same mindset: we’re exhausted. She has the goal to get money, save up money. She’s a couple years younger than me. She’s a very hard worker,” said O’Connor. “I just count down, 10 more months of misery. I’m a very positive person, so I just know that in 10 months, when my wedding is here, I’m going to be happy with the success I achieved.”

Countertrend to the Great Resignation

As headlines heralded the Great Resignation, O’Connor and her best friend joined an army of more than 7.7 million living an opposite reality, quietly patching together paychecks to make ends meet or build a nest egg, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The time-honored tradition of working two jobs has rebounded to near pre-Covid levels, gaining traction as historic inflation outstrips wage growth. From 4 percent of the workforce in April 2020, multiple jobholders increased to 4.9 percent in September 2022, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve. In February 2020, 5.1 percent of workers in the United States held two or more jobs.

In a Straus News survey of 104 multi-jobbers, reasons ran the gamut: “I’m a single mom and cannot keep up with the rising costs. Also, teenagers are expensive!” “I like to keep my options open,” “I have a lousy ex-husband,” “I cannot survive on 30k after taxes,” “I need dinero!!” “Attempting to pay off high-interest credit cards,” “I am paying my daughter’s college loans,” “Dental and vision costs are ridiculous these days,” “It’s fun to do things you enjoy - why limit it to just one career type?” and “I have been doing it for so long, I don’t remember why.”

Slipping in self-care

The vast majority of survey respondents said the hardest part of working multiple jobs was a dearth of time or sleep. One respondent – the parent of three teenagers, one in college – took on a second job after her husband left during Covid. Working 50-hour weeks, she said, leaves “not enough time at home to make dinner, be with my kids and keep up with my house.”

Others named drawbacks like childcare, sitting way too long, lack of benefits and paid holidays, scheduling conflicts, “coming in to work at the second job ‘fresh’ when I have already worked a full work day,” “selecting appropriate non-competing jobs,” “all the passwords/software,” “remembering what day it is” and “never feeling like you are finished.”

Self-care for this crowd needs to fit into short increments. Samantha Stankiewicz is a full-time art teacher and parent of two who commutes 50 minutes from Monroe, NY to Ridgewood, NJ, and works side jobs at a summer camp, painting murals and directing an ethics program for kids.

“I try to take a few yoga classes each week, and I take a walk every day at lunch for sanity,” she said. “I don’t cook extravagant meals. We try to keep some things simple. I probably need to learn to say ‘no’ more often.”

The family hired a cleaning service to come to the house twice a month.

Job patchwork for love and money

Debra Hollinrake, of Milford, owns three businesses – not because she wants to, but because she can’t charge enough for her natural healing services to support herself.

“In this area, there are some people who can afford the regular price that we charge, but we’re not going to turn anyone away,” she said. “They may figure out a way to barter. We have a certain threshold that we cannot afford to go below, but we’ll cut our price in half.”

So she’s stuck putting in 35 to 40 hours running her virtual administration business of 24 years that pays the bills, and splits about the same amount of time between her healing practice and her brick-and-mortar Trauma, Retreat and Healing Arts Center in Newton, NJ.

It’s not unusual for her to stay up until midnight finishing her work, but in her line of work she knows enough to take breaks. “I do some self-care in between, a half-hour or something to take care of myself,” she said. She might do qi gong, hike, meditate or relax in the backyard with her husband and cats – or laugh. She even has a laugh at the question of what she does for self-care.

Most multiple jobholders have one full-time job and a “side hustle” or two, like O’Connor, Stankiewicz and Hollinrake. The next most common set-up is cobbling together two or more part-time gigs.

That’s what Stephanie Poli-Zilinski, 36, of Andover, NJ, has done ever since she was in college, working odd jobs that fit around her class schedule. She had hoped to go into teaching eventually, and while working toward that goal she picked up other jobs to make ends meet. Then she had her daughter, and a full-time job was no longer feasible.

These days, in addition to homeschooling her seven-year-old, Poli-Zilinski juggles three part-time jobs. She runs the business end of her brother’s sewer and drain company, she’s treasurer of a 501c3 history organization, and she recently took a leap and bought a local T-shirt business that her family had patronized for years.

The decision to buy Neverland Crew came quickly after Poli-Zilinksi’s nanny job of 14 years came to an end. “It was kind of like this mad rush to immediately get another job. I did that almost instantaneously, because, you know, there’s really no room to not have income coming in.” Besides, she had a soft spot for the company, whose matching shirts have been a feature of family photos for her daughter’s entire life. “We don’t really have that many holiday traditions persay, but I love looking at these photos of her at 1, then 5, and it’s us in the same exact spot.”

But as Poli-Zilinski is well aware, families like hers are cutting back on non-essential purchases right now. “Starting a small business when people don’t have disposable income is not ideal, to say the least, she said. “And so I really have even been looking for a fourth job.”

Working so many jobs, and all remotely, means that Poli-Zilinski never gets to get home from the office and put her feet up. Nights, weekends, she never clocks out. “My phone is attached to me 24 hours a day,” she said. You kind of always feel – I don’t want to miss a customer trying to reach me, or my brother might need me for something. You know, you’re out and about, but you always kind of feel guilty for doing stuff.”

There are upsides, too, to her patchwork professional life. The priceless one is time with her daughter, seeing her grow up. Plus, she gets to sleep later than her husband, an HVAC service technician.

“It would be nice if eventually my T-shirt business took off and I didn’t have to continue working so many jobs,” she said. “But I’m not necessarily betting on black, especially not in our current economy.”

Doubling up: working two full-time jobs is trending
Among multi-jobbers, the fastest-growing trend is those working two full-time jobs, clocking 70 hours a week or more. They still account for a tiny fraction of the workforce, but in a sign of times, the 420,000 people working two full-time jobs – a feat made more doable in the remote work era – hovers near a record high set this summer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Four of 104 Straus News survey respondents reported working two full-time jobs.
A fledgling sub-category of the dually employed is the so-called overemployed, who toggle between two “full-time jobs” simultaneously in order to double up on paychecks, usually on the sly. The credit-reporting service Equifax, after using its own technology to surveil employees, fired 24 dually employed remote workers in October, reported Business Insider. One survey respondent appeared to fit the overemployed label. They’d been putting in 40-hour weeks working two “full-time” jobs in the STEM field for a year without their employers’ knowledge, they reported. They made more than $80,000, and did it for “the excitement and challenge.”
“It was kind of like this mad rush to immediately get another job. I did that almost instantaneously, because, you know, there’s really no room to not have income coming in.” - Stepanie Poli-Zilinski