Workers take on extra jobs just to pay for gas and groceries


Albert Elliott fueled his Kia Soul in increments of $15, $20, and $25 to commute the 60 miles from Fayetteville, NC, to an Amazon warehouse in Raleigh, where he makes $15.75 an hour. He hasn’t had enough money to fill his tank up lately.

By June, gas prices had gotten so steep that Elliot took a second job as a janitor at a community college, working two days a week for $10 an hour.

“Gas just goes through the roof. When it’s not payday I put all my money into it, sometimes I borrow money from family and friends,” Elliott said. “I realized that what I was making on Amazon wasn’t enough to pay for gas. My biggest concern is not being able to go to work to earn money. You’re going to have to rob Peter pretty bad to pay Paul.”

A tight labor market has pushed up wages across the board – but not enough to keep up with inflation, which hit a 40-year high in June. That forces workers like Elliott to do it find a second job and increase their working hours to cover their normal expenses. The proportion of workers with multiple jobs in the United States has steadily increased since March 2020, from 4 percent in April 2020 to 4.8 percent in June 2022, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, although it has not returned to its previous level – pandemic level. As of February 2020, 5.1 percent of workers in the United States held two or more jobs. While people taking on multiple jobs are usually a sign of a healthy labor market where workers have more job opportunities, it’s also a sign of the increasing financial strain on Americans’ wallets.

“There are people who want multiple jobs to make more money, and they find that opportunity when the job market is stronger,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at Indeed’s Hiring Lab. “But I would say for many people the urgency to find more income or a second or third job has increased with inflation.”

Increasingly, workers are taking on a second full-time job and working more than 70 hours a week to make ends meet. Although fewer people have multiple jobs overall today than before the pandemic, more workers now have two full-time jobs, defined as working more than 35 hours a week per job, than at any time since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting this data in 1994: 426,000 Americans had two full-time jobs in June, compared to 308,000 in February 2020.

“The people who are most affected by high inflation are also seeing a lot of job growth,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. “Given the burden of high inflation and high job availability, it doesn’t surprise me at all that people are doubling their jobs.”

Wages rose faster last year than in decades, with the biggest gains for low-wage workers in the leisure and hospitality sectors, who have had newfound leverage to negotiate higher wages, quit their jobs and unionize. Average hourly earnings rose 5.1 percent last year, according to government data in June. But for most workers, even in the lowest-paid sectors where wages are rising fastest, inflation is now wiping out wage increases. Rising prices caused overall wages to fall 3.6 percent in inflation-adjusted terms last year, BLS data showed. The June jobs report showed slowing wage growth after months of strong gains, sometimes indicative of an economy headed for recession.

“There are still people getting raises faster than inflation, but not nearly as many as there were a few months ago,” Bunker said. “People who said, ‘My raises are outpacing inflation,’ are now saying, ‘I’m not getting those raises anymore [because of inflation].'”

According to BLS reports, the cost of basic necessities like petrol, groceries and rent have skyrocketed as inflation has soared. This has disproportionately hurt low-wage workers, who typically suffer most from high inflation because they devote a higher proportion of their income to those expenses – which are harder to cut.

Hermes Diaz, an independent construction contractor in Queens, took a second job as a commercial cleaner in May due to rising prices and fewer residential job opportunities. Today, he pulls together cleaning and construction jobs that add up to between 60 and 90 hours of work per week to pay his daughter’s rent and tuition.

“I can’t buy the same things as I used to,” Diaz said in Spanish. “Even really cheap clothes. Fruit. The same type of rice. The eggs are too expensive. I have other priorities. I buy a lot less but spend more money.”

Anneisha Williams, a 37-year-old single mom in Los Angeles who makes $16.25 an hour as a housekeeper, took a second job as a drive-through cashier at a Jack in the Box last year to pay her bills. Last month, her landlord increased her rent by $130 to $1,730 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Now she logs in extra hours at Jack in the Box every opportunity she gets.

“I’m just going through with it. I’m on the verge of being homeless,” she said. “Sometimes I have to put my phone bill on an extension. I put the gas and electric bills on renewal. When prices go up in the 99-cent store, you know something’s up.”

Higher-earning employees can reduce fuel costs by finding remote jobs that allow them to avoid commuting or move to cheaper cities. A June Quinnipiac poll found that 52 percent of Americans drive significantly less than they drive because of the rise in gas prices. But most workers don’t have that option. And low-wage workers, particularly in the hospitality and service sectors, are more likely to have to show up in person to get their jobs done and spend big bucks on gas. Even in 2021, when the pandemic was forcing more closures than it is today, only 13 percent of private sector workers in the United States worked from home all the time, and 78 percent of percent rarely or never worked from home. found a BLS poll.

“I put $25 in my tank on Monday. That didn’t last long. I had to put another $15 in my tank this morning,” Elliott said Wednesday. “That’s what brought me to work today. I’ll probably have to invest another $20 to make it home tomorrow. I’m in Raleigh at Amazon now. If I leave, I have to do my part-time cleaning job.”

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