‘I’m selling my blood’: millions in US can’t make ends meet with two jobs
Millions of Americans are currently working two or more jobs in order to make ends meet, as global inflation and corporations jacking up prices have sent prices of food, gas, housing, health insurance and other necessities soaring in the past year.
Cashe Lewis, 31, of Denver, Colorado works two jobs and is currently trying to find a third job to cover the recent $200 monthly rent increase to her apartment. She works days as a barista at Starbucks, but claims it’s been difficult to get enough hours even with taking extra shifts whenever she can due to scheduling cuts as part of the crackdown on union organizing by management.
At night she works at a convenience store because the hours are reliable, and works six days a week, often 16 hours a day.
“I’m exhausted all the time,” said Lewis. “On the one day I have off a week, I donate plasma for extra money. I’m literally selling my blood to eat because I have no choice.”
Her partner suffers from epilepsy and can’t work full-time hours because of it. Even with insurance, their medication is expensive and she spends about half of a two-week paycheck at Starbucks to cover the health insurance premiums.
Over the past five years, she has struggled with homelessness, and was previously fired from her job for sleeping in her car behind her place of employment.
“All of my friends and family work multiple jobs as well, just trying to keep our heads above water. Nothing is affordable and the roadblocks set up to keep people in the cycle of poverty benefit the most wealthy members of our society,” added Lewis. “We aren’t living, we’re barely surviving and we have no choice but to keep doing it.”
More Americans have been working two or more jobs over the past few decades, according to data from the US census, with women more likely than men to have multiple jobs and multiple jobholders most prevalent among low-wage workers.
Laura Richwine of Omaha, Nebraska, works two jobs, one in fraud prevention and the other doing administrative work, and had previously been working three jobs to keep up with hefty medical bills she’s been facing since being hit by a car in 2014.
“It’s rough and I barely have any energy to keep up with much else,” said Richwine. “I’ve got a bachelor’s degree and have been working for over 10 years, but up until this year I had never had a job that paid more than $15 an hour. Many places around me still only offer Nebraska minimum wage, which is $9 an hour. You can hardly even buy food with that amount.”
Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 400,000 Americans work two full-time jobs. In September 2022, 4.9% of all the more than 164 million US workers held two or more job positions, over 7.7 million workers.
Though US census data estimates these rates and numbers to be much higher, at 7.8% in the most recent year where data is available, 2018, about 13 million workers, while BLS data at the time estimated 5.0% of the workforce holding multiple jobs.
Both data sets are considered an underestimate of the number of multiple jobholders in the US labor market due to constrictions on what is defined as a multiple jobholder and the lack of data on self-employment, such as gig workers.
An annual survey sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board estimated an even higher number of workers in multiple jobs, at 16.4% in 2019, about 26.5 million workers.
Many of these workers holding multiple jobs are doing so to try to make ends meet and often working longer than 40 hours a week.
Robert Weaver of Lawrence, Kansas, currently works two jobs as a theater technician and delivery driver, 30 to 35 hours a week at his primary job and about 20 at his second job.
He explained that he works two jobs because he cannot find a single, full-time position in his area that matches with his college degree. Most of his disposable income goes toward paying off credit cards, taxes, surprise bills like car repairs, and medical expenses.
“There isn’t enough money to be able to afford a home or even rent from just one job on your own,” said Weaver. “Everyone is in debt and it’s looking like we will never pay it off, ever.”
Liora Engel, 37, of Vermont, took on two additional jobs, working at a deli and another at a convenience store, earlier this year on top of her full-time job in media, to try to boost her income and cover expenses while going through a divorce.
After working 70-hour weeks, she left her full-time job due to burnout, but still works two jobs while trying to get a side hustle off the ground and limiting her work hours to no more than 50 hours a week.
“It’s kind of like, how much of your soul are you willing to sell in order to be financially independent or to make sure that you can pay your bills?” said Engel.