July 22, 2024

Job Jugglers, on the Tightrope

Mr. Fierro, who is 26, has four jobs: working as a bilingual-curriculum specialist for the textbook publisher Pearson; handling estate sales and online marketing for a store that sells vintage items; setting up an online store for a custom piñata maker; and developing reality-show ideas for a production company. So far this month, he’s made about $1,800.

Whereas most 9-to-5ers have some kind of structure in their lives, each workday can be wildly different for him. On a recent day, he worked on and off from 7 a.m. to midnight, making business calls, working on the piñata store’s Web site and visiting the vintage store, among other things. (To maintain his sanity, he made sure to schedule some “me” time from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8.)

“I have eight million things going on,” said Mr. Fierro, who lives in the West Town area of Chicago. “It’s exhausting. Sometimes I just want to take a nap.”

Some portions of the population — especially young, creative types like actors, artists and musicians — have always held multiple jobs to pay the bills. But people from all kinds of fields are now drawing income from several streams. Mr. Fierro, for one, has a degree in international studies and Latin American studies at the University of Chicago.

Some of these workers are patching together jobs out of choice. They may find full-time office work unfulfilling and are testing to see whether they can be their own boss. Certainly, the Internet has made working from home and trying out new businesses easier than ever.

But in many cases, necessity is driving the trend. “Young college graduates working multiple jobs is a natural consequence of a bad labor market and having, on average, $20,000 worth of student loans to pay off,” said Carl E. Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers.

“There are two types of people in this position: the graduate who can’t get a full-time job, and the person whose income isn’t sufficient to meet their expenses,” he said. “The only cure for young people in this position is an economic recovery of robust proportions.”

An entry-level salary often doesn’t go very far these days. According to a study by the Heldrich Center, the median starting salary for those who graduated from four-year degree programs in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who graduated in 2006 to 2008, before the recession. (Try living on $27,000 a year — before taxes — in a city like New York, Washington or Chicago.)

Many earn even less than $27,000. Maureen McCarty, 23, who graduated from American University in 2010 with a journalism degree, makes $25,000 before taxes as managing editor of TheNewGay.net, a blog focusing on gay issues, with no benefits like health insurance or a 401(k). The salary doesn’t cover her expenses, so she often baby-sits five nights a week for six families in the Washington area.

Without the baby-sitting jobs, she says, she couldn’t afford to live in Adams Morgan, a hip neighborhood in Washington, or take a vacation: “I’m working in online publishing, an industry that is struggling to monetize, so if I want to do anything fun, like take a trip to New Orleans, I have to have additional income.”

Juggling jobs has its perils. “I do sometimes get my schedules mixed up and will double- or even triple-book myself,” Ms. McCarty said. Maintaining a social life can be challenging, and it might consist of “dragging a friend along while I run errands on a Saturday.”

“Sometimes I do get burnt out from all of the juggling, but caffeine, for the most part, keeps me going,” she said. “I try when I get to that point to take some time by myself even if it’s just 30 minutes during lunch.”

All told, Ms. McCarty says, she works 75 to 80 hours a week, a schedule more typical of investment bankers or lawyers aspiring to make partner in a firm — but for just a fraction of the pay.

Between her salary at TheNewGay.net and the $5,000 she makes at her various baby-sitting jobs, Ms. McCarty has a pre-tax income of $30,000, or about $2,500 a month. More than $700 a month goes to the apartment she shares with two roommates.

Some months, however, when she doesn’t have enough baby-sitting jobs lined up, Ms. McCarty has to make that “horrible phone call” to her parents to tell them that she can’t make her rent.

LOUISE GASSMAN, 28, has a rotating schedule of multiple jobs: as an actress; as an assistant to dance instructors at the Circle in the Square and Juilliard schools; as a baby-sitter; and in a variety of administrative roles and as a spinning instructor at SoulCycle, an indoor cycling studio in New York.

Ms. Gassman’s monthly income, which can vary greatly depending on whether she books an acting job, ranges from $1,800 to $4,000. Some months, almost all of her income goes to the $1,450 rent on her 290-square-foot studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Whatever is left after essentials goes toward paying off her remaining $16,000 in college loans.

“I worry about money all the time,” Ms. Gassman said. “I live on a really tight budget, and I live paycheck to paycheck.”

Periodically, the accountant who cuts her check at SoulCycle reminds her that someone her age should be putting away $300 a paycheck for retirement, an amount that is sometimes almost half of her pay. “I’m like, retirement?” she asks. “Then I have the ‘Oh my God, Oh my God’ feelings.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/business/26work.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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