Albert Elliott has been fueling up his Kia Soul in increments of $15, $20 and $25 to make the 60-mile commute from Fayetteville, N.C., to an Amazon warehouse in Raleigh, where he makes $15.75 an hour. Lately, he doesn’t have enough cash to fill his tank the entire way.
In June, gas prices had gotten so steep that Elliot took on a second job as a janitor at a community college, working an extra two days a week for $10 an hour.
“Gas is just through the roof. Unless it’s payday, I put in all the money I have at the time, sometimes borrowing money from family and friends,” Elliott said. “I began to realize that what I was making at Amazon was not enough to pay for gas. My biggest concern is not being able to get to work to make any money. You have to pretty much rob Peter to pay Paul.”
A tight labor market has pushed wages up across the board—but not enough to keep pace with inflation, which hit a 40-year high in June. That’s forcing workers like Elliott to seek second jobs and increase their hours to pay for their normal expenses. The percentage of employed people working multiple jobs in the United States has steadily increased since March 2020 from 4% in April 2020 to 4.8% in June 2022, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, although it has not returned to its pre-pandemic levels.
In February 2020, 5.1% of workers in the United States held two or more jobs. While people taking on multiple jobs is typically a sign of a healthy job market where workers have more job opportunities available, it is also a sign of increasing financial strain on Americans’ pocketbooks.
“There are people who want multiple jobs to make more money, and they find that opportunity when the labor market is stronger,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at Indeed’s Hiring Lab. “But I would say for many people, the urgency of finding more income or a second job or third job has intensified with inflation.”
Workers are increasingly taking on a second full-time job and clocking more than 70 hours a week to make ends meet. Although fewer people overall have multiple jobs now than before the pandemic, more workers now hold two full-time jobs, defined as more than 35 hours a week per job, than at any point since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting this data in 1994: 426,000 Americans held two full-time jobs in June, compared to 308,000 in February 2020.
“People most hurt by high inflation are also seeing a ton 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’s not at all a surprise to me that you’d see people doubling up on jobs.”
Wages grew faster last year than they had in decades with the biggest gains for low-wage workers in leisure and hospitality who had newfound leverage to negotiate higher pay, quit their jobs and unionize. Hourly average earnings were up 5.1% over the past year, according to government data from June. But for most workers, even in the lowest paid sectors where wages are rising fastest, inflation is now wiping out pay increases. Soaring prices meant overall wages fell by 3.6% when adjusted for inflation over the past year, the BLS data showed. The June jobs report showed cooling wage growth after months of strong gains, which is sometimes an indicator of an economy headed toward recession.
“There are still people who are getting raises faster than inflation, but they’re not nearly as many as a few months ago,” Bunker said. “People who said ‘my raises are outpacing inflation’ are now saying ‘I’m no longer getting those raises [because of inflation].'”
The costs of essentials like gas, food and rent have especially skyrocketed as inflation rose, according to BLS reports. That has disproportionately hurt low-wage workers, who typically suffer most from high inflation because they devote a higher share of their income to those expenses—which are harder to cut back on.
Hermes Diaz, an independent contractor in the construction industry in Queens took on a second job in May as a commercial cleaner because of rising prices and fewer opportunities for work in residential construction. These days, he cobbles together cleaning and construction gigs amounting to between 60 and 90 hours a week of work to pay rent and his daughter’s college tuition.
“I can’t buy the same things I used to buy,” Diaz said in Spanish. “Even really cheap clothes. Fruit. The same type of rice. The eggs are too expensive. I have other priorities. I am buying a lot less, but I am spending more money.”
Anneisha Williams, a 37-year-old single mother in Los Angeles who makes $16.25 an hour as a home care provider, picked up a second job as a drive-through cashier at a Jack in the Box last year to pay her bills. Last month, her landlord raised her rent by $130, to $1,730 a month for a two-bedroom. Now she signs up for extra hours at Jack in the Box any opportunity that she gets.
“I’m going through it right now. I’m on the verge of becoming homeless,” she said. “Sometimes I have to put my phone bill on extension. I put the gas and electric bill on extension. When prices at the 99-cent store are going up, you know something is going on.”
Higher-earning white-collar workers can cut back on fuel costs by finding remote jobs that allow them to avoid commuting or move to cheaper cities. A June Quinnipiac poll found that 52% of Americans cut back significantly on how much they drove because of the rise in gas prices. But most workers don’t have that option. And low-wage workers, especially in the hospitality and service industries, are more likely to be required to show up in person to do their jobs and spend heavily on gas. Even in 2021, when the pandemic was forcing more closures than it is now, only 13% of private-sector workers in the United States did their jobs from home all of the time, and 78% rarely or never worked from home, a BLS survey found.
“I put $25 in my tank on Monday. That didn’t last long. This morning, I had to put another $15 bucks in my tank,” Elliott said on Wednesday. “That got me to work today. I probably have to put in another $20 to make it home tomorrow. I’m in Raleigh now at Amazon. When I leave, I have to go my part-time cleaning job.”