When A Full-Time Job Isn't Enough To Make It

Feb 2, 2018
Originally published on February 2, 2018 8:33 pm

A new NPR/Marist poll finds that 1 in 5 jobs in America is held by a worker under contract. Within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the American workforce. In a series, NPR explores many aspects of this change.

After working full time at a museum, Emily Doherty does something millions of Americans do each day: head to a second job. In her case, it means donning a petticoat to portray a Colonial-era woman at living-history museums or national parks, where she sings and play-acts.

The 28-year-old needs the extra work so she can make ends meet, plus pay her $500-per-month student loan payment. Doherty is among the 30 percent of Americans who do something else for pay in addition to their full-time jobs, according to a recent NPR/Marist poll.

"I'd like to own a house someday," says Doherty, who lives in Virginia. "The only way I'm going to be able to do that is if I work two jobs."

Indeed, student loan debt has been mounting and totals nearly $1.4 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Doherty's second job means she barely has any time for herself or her friends on weeknights or even weekends. But it lets her chip away at her debt.

The emotional cost is high. Each day, she gets off from her day job around 5 p.m. and rushes home to heat up dinner and change into her costume. Then, she works as many as four hours. She hits bed around 11, and does it again the next day. And on weekends, her performances can last another eight hours.

All that extra work has meant missing weddings or sharing an evening beer with a friend, she says. "You start losing your support system, which is one of the most incredibly important things you can have if you're working this much," she says.

That can affect people's personal well-being and also their family life, says Susan Lambert, an associate professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration.

"Often, they are faced with that very hard decision of whether they take on another job, or they spend time at home having dinner with their children," she says.

Straddling that delicate balance can be a challenge for people like Jon Jacobs, 31, who has two small children and works full-time as a substance addiction therapist in Milwaukee. He also has student loans, for graduate school. Jacobs had a second job as a bartender for years, but he switched to driving for Lyft a year ago because of the flexibility it offered.

"I just decided eventually it just really wasn't worth it," he says. "It didn't line up with our life goals, and who I wanted to be as a parent. I can see the difference, especially with my son who's almost two (and says), 'Daddy's home at night.' "

Jacobs makes less money than he did bartending, but he says the small financial sacrifice is worth it so he can spend more time with his kids.

But earning less is not a choice for Doherty, the museum worker: She faces that student loan payment every month. "I fully expect my federal loans to not be paid back before I die," she says.

Like many moonlighters NPR spoke to, Doherty says she's working toward financial peace of mind.

"I hope that in the future, I am able to come to a place where I am financially stable enough to do just what drives me, and what makes me happy," she says.

And what would make her really happy is seeing her family back in Maine. She hasn't seen them in three years. She's saving up — bit by bit — for a plane ticket home this summer to watch her younger sister perform in a local play.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump touted the growth in American jobs in his State of the Union.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2018 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Together we are building a safe, strong and proud America. Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs.

KELLY: An NPR/Marist poll, though, finds 1 in 5 are contract workers, and almost a third of Americans with full-time jobs are moonlighting. NPR's Emily Sullivan caught up with one of them.

EMILY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Emily Doherty has a full-time job at a history museum. When she gets out of work, she switches from slacks to a petticoat. It takes her a good half an hour to carefully tie each of the knots of the long colonial skirt. Once she's ready, she heads to her second job.

EMILY DOHERTY: I have a second career as a first-person theatrical historic interpreter.

SULLIVAN: Meaning the 28-year-old plays a character from the colonial era. She tells stories and sings.

DOHERTY: (Singing) I'll dye my petticoats.

SULLIVAN: Doherty gets off from her day job around 5 and rushes home to heat up dinner and change into her costume. Then her second shift can last for hours. Dorothy finally hits bed around 11, and she does it all again the next day. And on weekends, she can perform another eight hours. In today's economy, almost everyone has a job that wants one. But as our poll shows, nearly a third of full-time workers moonlight. And for many young people, student debt leaves them no choice.

DOHERTY: My graduating class, I have noticed a lot of people have had some unusual career paths. I fully expect my federal loans to not be paid back before I die. I expect to have those for the rest of my life.

SULLIVAN: Doherty says that her long hours take a major toll on her social life. She's missed out on everything from beers with friends to weddings.

DOHERTY: You start sometimes losing your support system, which is one of the most incredibly important things you can have if you're working this much. Invitations stop happening.

SULLIVAN: She also worries that the financial pressure means she'll have to put off having kids. And she's got a point - moonlighting does put pressures on families, according to Susan Lambert. She studies work life at the University of Chicago.

SUSAN LAMBERT: People are doing these long hours because they need the money to earn a decent living and to support their family in a basic, adequate way. Often they are faced with that very hard decision of whether they take on another job or they spend time at home, having dinner with their children.

JON JACOBS: I just decided eventually it just really wasn't worth it.

SULLIVAN: Jon Jacobs knows exactly what that means. He has two small kids and works full time as a substance addiction therapist in Milwaukee. He, too, has student loans from grad school. Jacobs worked a second job as a bartender for 10 years, but he missed putting his kids to bed. So for more flexibility, he started driving for Lyft.

JACOBS: It didn't line up with our life goals and who I wanted to be as a parent. I can see the difference, especially with my son who's almost 2, is Daddy's home at night.

SULLIVAN: Jacobs makes less money than he did bartending, but for him it's more than worth it. But Doherty doesn't have a choice. Each month, she faces a student loan bill of $500. She doesn't regret borrowing all that money to study history in college. But like many moonlighters I spoke to, Doherty says that she's working toward financial peace of mind.

DOHERTY: I hope that in the future I am able to come to a place where I am financially stable enough to do just what drives me and what makes me happy.

SULLIVAN: And what would make her happy is seeing her family back in Maine. She hasn't seen them in three years. Doherty's saving up for a plane ticket home to watch her younger sister perform in a local play. Emily Sullivan, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEQUERBOARD'S "OPENING THE GATES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.