November 8, 2009
Juggling act: Part-time 'giggers' embrace multiple-job economy
New York Times News Service
Maureen Russell has three jobs. Hillary Skye works four. And George Peele juggles at least five.
All of these workers are fully engaged with an economy that has become stingy with full-time jobs. To make ends meet, they balance part-time gigs.
Economists and others who wrestle with employment issues have dubbed the trend “gigonomics.”
“I was a river guide, but tourism is slow,” says Alyssa Berry, 28, of Lakewood, Colo. “I’m painting people’s houses. I’ve been raking leaves for three days now. Helping people clean up. Whatever someone will pay me to do, I’m doing.”
There is no question more people are working part-time jobs today than when the recession started in December 2007 (see sidebar). Many of them were thrust into job-shuffling situations and cannot wait to land a full-time job, with a steady paycheck, benefits and dependable, 9-to-5 days at the office.
But for some, estrangement from the boss has been liberating. Nobody is taking note when they come and go or take vacation. They don’t strive for positive annual reviews so they can receive a 3 percent raise. Instead, they just hustle for more jobs.
The trade-off: no 401(k), no benefits, no paycheck every two weeks. For most of these “giggers,” making steady money is a struggle.
Managing jobs was not something public-relations executive Maureen Russell thought she would be facing just months ago, when real estate development had not yet crashed. But then last fall, bank financing for real estate vanished and away went her clients’ budgets for her job.
“It was really scary,” says Russell, 36, of Denver. But she also felt empowered. “I knew it was up to me to make more work happen.”
She picked up a gig for a nonprofit in Boulder. She found freelance writing jobs. She did some public relations, helping a purse manufacturer and a Pilates studio spread the word. She even took a retail job at a furniture store.
Part-time numbers on the rise
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are now 4.4 million more workers toiling at part-time jobs for economic reasons than there were 18 months ago. In all, the BLS counts 9 million people in this category.
The experience has whacked more than half of her former six-figure income, taken a chunk of her savings and weighed down her credit card. Still, she champions her new life.
“It has had its painful moments, and it’s very stressful,” Russell says. But “I learned how to create value in myself. I can brand myself. In a company, you don’t have that control.”
Hillary Skye -- music teacher, massage therapist, heavy-equipment operator, fiddle seller -- doesn’t have a professional background in marketing, but she understands a thing or two about self-promotion. Like other gig hunters, she routinely posts her various services on Craigslist.
“I really like working for myself,” Skye says. “I don’t like punching a clock, the corporate politics, having somebody tell me when I take my break for lunch.”
George Peele, 32, a performer who also goes by the name “Orange Peel Moses,” tries to please a variety of clients. He grapples with the tension between independence and security.
Peele makes the bulk of his income delivering singing telegrams. He also gets hired to walk on stilts. He works as a freelance writer, makes music and occasionally performs a Johnny Cash tribute.
“If I was in any kind of position where I wasn’t constantly challenged, I would just get stagnant and disinterested and bored,” he says. “I’m not making much money, but I’m still doing it and I’m not homeless.”
Do you enjoy juggling multiple gigs, or do you prefer a traditional full-time job? Leave your comments below.
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