Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Young college graduates patch together multiple jobs to pay bills in tight economy

When someone asks Roger Fierro "What do you do?" -- which he knows is shorthand for "Where do you work?" -- he laughs. Then he says, "I do everything."

Mr. Fierro, who is 26, has four jobs: working as a bilingual-curriculum specialist for the textbook publisher Pearson Higher Education, handling estate sales and online marketing for a store that sells vintage items, setting up an online store for a custom pinata maker, and developing reality-show ideas for a production company. He made about $2,000 last month.

Most 9-to-5ers have some kind of structure in their lives, but each workday can be wildly different for him. On a recent day, he worked on and off from 7 a.m. to midnight at tasks including making business calls, working on the pinata store's Web site, and visiting the vintage store. (He made sure to schedule some "me" time from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8.)

"I have 8 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. 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 from 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 bosses. 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 Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

'Two types of people'

"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 expenses," he said.

"The only cure for young people in this position is an economic recovery of robust proportions."

Many entry-level salaries don't go very far.

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.

Many make 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, a blog focusing on gay issues, with no benefits such as 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 said, she couldn't afford to live in the hip Adams Morgan neighborhood 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."

"I do sometimes get my schedules mixed up and will double or even triple-book myself," she said. Maintaining a social life can be challenging, and, she said, it might consist of "dragging a friend along while I run errands on a Saturday."

All told, Ms. McCarty said, she works 75 to 80 hours a week.

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

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

Her 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.

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."

Ms. Gassman has has a policy not to spend $5 bills and instead puts them in a Tupperware container. So far, she's used this cash to pay for a new air conditioner, for three plane tickets, and for her dog to be neutered.

Money worries

Mia Branco, 23, said she is always worried about money, even though she also works four jobs. She is the house manager at the Discovery Theater at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, teaches drama and music at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Md., supervises the box office at the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, and is employed as a nanny.

Ms. Branco says she logs 40 to 50 hours a week, including travel time, and takes home $1,300 in a good month.

Still, Ms. Branco, who graduated magna cum laude with a degree in musical theater from American University in 2009, said she feels lucky to be employed at all.

Medical coverage

She has medical insurance through her parents under the new health care law that allows anyone under 26 to stay on parents' policies.

Mr. Fierro still receives insurance from a teaching job he used to have, but it runs out in August. He doesn't know what he'll do after that.

Ms. Branco pays $89 a month for very basic health insurance that has a high deductible, the kind of plan that she says makes her "bank on not getting sick."

Ms. Gassman, who does not have medical insurance and hasn't had a physical since 2004, said she is extra careful when crossing the street because anything medically catastrophic is simply not an option right now.

"I can't afford to get hit by a taxi," she said.

On the brighter side, when or if these job jugglers get on a career path, they may offer an attractive skill set: They are expert multitaskers, hyperorganized, and often very knowledgeable in technology. Having multiple jobs is an exercise in mental dexterity.

Ms. Branco said, that because of her four jobs, which require skills as diverse as developing lesson plans and mastering an online ticketing system, she has become more adept at dealing with a wide range of people and situations: "I've learned to be very adaptable, because one day I'm corporate, the next day I'm start-up, and the next day I'm nonprofit."

A downside

But beware: Too much multitasking makes it harder to sustain attention, according to Kirk Snyder, an assistant professor of communications at the Marshall school of business at the University of Southern California.

A national study by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies found that young women who worked primarily in part-time jobs did not make higher wages in their 30s than in their 20s.

The goal for most college graduates with part-time jobs is to be upgraded to full-time employment, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University and a co-author of the study. "That is where there is the most payoff for a college degree," he said.

Ms. McCarty would agree. She is looking for an end to her 80-hour weeks and meager paychecks. "I don't want to be 30 and working a bunch of small jobs so I can pay my bills," she said.

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