When the latest report on the employment situation arrived last week, most commentary focused either on job creation (a healthy 200,000) or the unemployment rate (unchanged at 3.9 percent). Beneath the surface, though, there were many other signs of growing strengths and remaining weaknesses in U.S. labor markets. One of these was a strong uptick in the number of people holding multiple jobs. Is that a good sign, or a bad one?
The idea that multiple job holders are a sign of crisis is fueled in part by stories like one in the New York Times about school teachers who work second jobs to make ends meet:
There are times when my lower back hurts, my feet hurt, my hands hurt. I have calluses on my hands that I shouldn’t have. You really don’t have much in the way of free time, and when you do, you’re consumed by housework, but you basically just sit on the couch like a big blob, and then I feel guilty about doing that. (Shauntel Highley, English teacher/window washer, Vinita, Okla.)
Some business analysts, too, are wary of the rise in multiple job holders. As Komal Sri-Kumar puts it in a piece for Business Insider,
In a robust economic recovery, the number of full-time workers should be rising, and the number of workers employed part-time or holding multiple jobs, should decline. The rise in the number of multiple job holders is troubling, and is yet another signal that there is still slack in the labor market.
Yet, if we look at the data, the rise in multiple jobholders looks less dire than these accounts suggest. The first thing we learn is that although multiple jobholders are not rare, they are not as common as the impression you might get the media. Currently, multiple jobholders account for just 4.8 percent of the labor force. These include 2.6 percent who hold a part-time job in addition to a full time job — a pattern called FT/PT — and another 1.1 percent who piece together two or more part time jobs, or PT/PT. Smaller numbers work two full-time jobs or hold multiple jobs that are unclassified because they vary in hours from week to week.