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Workers take on extra jobs as inflation cuts wage gains

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that US employers added 528,000 jobs in July. The strength of the labor market means more opportunities for workers to change careers or take on additional work. But many people who take on a second or third job do so because they need it – 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 motivator for people taking on extra work. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Lauren Kaori Gurley: Even though hourly earnings are rising for workers across the country, those wage increases are being wiped out by inflation. Since the pandemic, the number of people working in second jobs has steadily increased. And so when I looked at this recently, it actually turns out that more workers in the United States right now than ever before are working two full-time jobs. The reason you would probably take two extra jobs right now is because there are so many jobs, the job market is very strong, and you are fighting inflation.

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

Gurley: Right. So that’s more than 70 hours per week – or 70 hours per week minimum – which means, for example, you have your day job and then work full time with a second job. And you know, a lot of those people are probably working near minimum wage jobs, so the people I interviewed for this story said, ‘Just to be able to get to work to earn money, I have to fill up my gas tank. But once I fill up on gas, that wipes out all my earnings from my first job, so I’m taking a second job,” if that makes sense.

Adam: Yeah, because one of the things that struck me is that a lot of workers who can’t reduce their gas mileage — which is one of the areas where we’ve seen some inflation, even though gas prices are falling — many of those workers who can’t cut gas because they don’t have the ability to work remotely are also the ones who have had to keep showing up in person to work throughout the pandemic. And it seems like it’s really becoming a dividing line in this economy.

Gurley: Yes, so most people who have the option of working from home are probably making a bit more money, whereas people who risked their lives and bus drivers or healthcare workers are really feeling the pinch right now .

Adam: Now that interest rates are on the rise again, what do you think this will do for these people? And what does that mean for them?

Gurley: That’s an excellent question. You can see that trend actually starting to die off a bit of people taking on extra jobs and really seeing an increase in unemployment, if we’re heading into a recession.

Adam: And that’s the big “if” everyone is asking.

Gurley: Right.

Adam: You wrote in your article that while people working multiple jobs is usually a sign of a healthy job market, it’s also a sign of growing financial pressure on people’s wallets. Can you tell us a bit more?

Gurley: Sure. So when the job market is doing well, there’s an excess of jobs, but because inflation is also high, that means people aren’t — like the money they have goes less far , then they have to spend more money to get the things they would normally get, like food, housing, gas, etc. just to make ends meet.

Adam: It must be exhausting though.

Gurley: I mean, yeah, a couple of people I’ve talked to about this who’ve taken second jobs in the last few months, you know, kind of broke down on the phone, just like talking about how, especially people with kids, how hard it is for them right now to make ends meet, you know, you even know, “Am I going to be homeless next month?” Rents are incredibly high in some cities like New York right now.

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