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In weak economy, some work two jobs

Even as nearly 15 million Americans are looking for just one job these days, around 6.5 million people, are working two jobs — or more — to make ends meet.
Image: David Clarke
David Clarke works the front desk at The Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix. Clarke, who works for the city of Phoenix, has had to take on a second, part-time job as a hotel clerk to make ends meet.Pat Shannahan for

When David Clarke finishes the day at his job with the city of Phoenix, he often heads over to a local boutique hotel.

But Clarke isn’t there to meet with friends or get a drink at the bar. Instead, he dons a uniform and starts his second job as a hotel clerk.

Although it can be exhausting to work two shifts in one day, Clarke needed the extra money after he was forced to switch to a lower-paying position with the city. And in many ways, he is among the lucky ones: At least he has been able to find extra work in this tight job market, especially in a hard-hit state like Arizona.

Even as nearly 15 million people are looking for just one job in this difficult economy, millions of Americans are finding they need two jobs to make ends meet. But the percentage of workers holding two or more jobs varies wildly depending on where you live.

In Arizona, which had a 9.6 percent unemployment rate in July, just 3.8 percent of workers held more than one job in 2009, the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But it's a completely different story in North and South Dakota, where the unemployment rate has stayed low during the recession. In both states about 10 percent of workers held down two jobs last year, among the highest in the nation.

In Nevada, Florida, Texas and Louisiana, workers were unlikely to have more than one job. States with particularly high rates of multiple jobholders included Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming.

Overall, about 6.5 million people were working two jobs — or more — to make ends meet in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That represents 4.7 percent of the work force, the lowest percentage in at least 15 years.

Clarke, 33, never expected to be moonlighting. But things changed when his job as a civil engineer for the city of Phoenix was eliminated because of a severe slowdown in construction projects.

He was relieved when the city offered him the chance to switch to an administrative job, but the new position came with a 20 percent pay cut. That left him struggling to pay his mortgage, and he’s had no luck convincing the bank to reduce his payments.

Even though he thinks the house is currently valued at a little more than half of what he paid for it in 2002, he still hopes to hang on to it — and his good credit score.

“I love the house,” he said.

Clarke said he also enjoys his second job, despite the lack of sleep and free time that comes with it. It’s also been humbling for him to realize that despite a college degree and what seemed like a stable career choice he had to seek out extra work just to stay on top of his bills.

But for now, Clarke said he’d rather give up personal time than risk having his credit destroyed because he can’t make his housing payments.

“I don’t have a plan as to how long I’ll have to keep working the second job,” he said. “I just think I’ll be working it indefinitely until I collapse or until I get foreclosed on or until I’m willing, at some point, seeing those two coming, to just allow my credit to suffer in the interest of my own health or my own, I don’t know, sanity.”

In a tough economy when many people are dealing with cutbacks in hours or pay, it’s not unusual to find people who need to work more than one job, said economist Mike Montgomery with IHS Global Insight.

“The economy is what it is and times are far from good, and people are adapting their behavior to it,” Montgomery said.

Still, even in good economic times, there are plenty of reasons people might work two jobs, he noted.

“Some people think of a second job as providing the fun money, and to some people it’s an absolute necessity,” he said. “(For) some people, it’s just a habit.”

Angie Baker is the type of person who has always worked two jobs, but even for a workaholic her current situation is extreme.

In a typical week, she puts in 40 hours a week as a personnel technician for the Idaho Department of Finance, after which she heads straight to her second job as night manager for a small independent living facility, where she and her husband live.

On the weekends, she typically works another 12 to 16 hours at a third job in the bakery at a grocery store.

The nearly 100-hour workweeks have paid off, helping Baker and her husband pay down credit card and student loan debt and save up for a home.

Still, all that work has come at a cost to her relationship with family and friends. Because her husband works nights, she sometimes goes days without seeing him, and she feels bad that can’t spend more time with her father, who moved to Idaho to be close to her.

“Yes, it’s put us ahead financially, but it’s also been really stressful and eventually, I would presume, it will probably take a toll on my health,” she said.

The couple recently used their savings to buy a house, and she’s decided to give up her night manager job when they move in.

“We really have to focus on what’s important and probably just step back and start spending more time with the people that I care about, rather than just looking for the next paycheck,” she said.

With the economy still on shaky ground, however, not everyone is willing to give up a second source of income, even if it comes at a cost to their personal lives.

A little more than a year after graduating from college with a degree in engineering, Christopher Mader finally landed a job in his field last month.

But for now, he’s still working some nights and weekends as a bartender, the job he’d gotten while searching for an engineering job.

Although he enjoys both jobs, he admits it’s tiring to be working as many as 75 hours a week. But the second source of income is helping Mader, 25, pay down some credit card debt he accumulated during the year he was searching for an engineering job, and to work toward a goal of buying his own house.

Mader, who lives outside Springfield, Mass., also likes the security of having two sources of income.

“I just want to try to get ahead while I can,” he said. “In tougher times like it is now, I’m not taking anything for granted.”

He admits that it can be tough to rarely have two days off in a row, or to work as many as 18 hours a day. But he’s not sure what he’d do if he suddenly found himself with a normal work schedule.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I’d probably spend a lot more time with my dog, a lot more time outside, a lot more time meeting people. I’d probably just enjoy the freedom that I have and live life a little bit.”

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