There are many reasons why people might work more than one job.
Some will pursue a passion project on the side, while being employed full-time in an unrelated industry during the week.
But the most common scenario is simple economic necessity. The income that one job generates just isn’t enough to pay the bills.
As the cost of living keeps rising, more people are forced to grab a second job just to get by.
Workers being paid by the hour, by the kilometre, or by the item can, of course, just work more hours in their primary (and likely only) job.
In both cases the strategy to counter the rising costs of living is to work yourself into the ground.
Over the last three decades the number of people holding multiple jobs doubled, from 433,000 in 1994 to 896,000 in 2022. In a time where the population of Australia only grew by 44 per cent, this 107 per cent increase is rather dramatic.
Things look even more severe when we look at the increase of workers with multiple jobs since the onset of the pandemic.
In March 2020 we counted 788,000 people working multiple jobs. In the two-and-a-half-years since, we added 107,000 multiple job holders (896,000).
Digital jobs rise
The universal adoption of remote working arrangements resulted in more digital jobs popping up. At the same time the gig economy created plenty low-paid work opportunities.
Digital rostering, the advent of truly flexible working hours, and the skills shortage made it easy for people to find a second job.
Women are more likely to hold multiple jobs. That’s likely because women are overrepresented in industries that dominate the multiple job segment.
Over 41 per cent of second (or third, or fourth…) jobs are clustered in the health, education and administration industries.
These sectors only make up 26 per cent of all Australian jobs.
Interestingly, hospitality and retail aren’t more popular among secondary job holders.
Men (5.4 per cent) and women (7.1 per cent) are taking to secondary jobs at record numbers. Seeing these numbers rise is a decent proxy for rising cost of living pressures.
Benefits of second jobs
Ideally a second job somehow improves your skills, your network, and ultimately your likelihood of succeeding in your first job. A teacher or lecturer who tutors on the side, for example, might better understand the learning challenges their students face.
If this leads to performing their primary job better that might even eventually lead to better primary wages.
In reality, a secondary job tends to be primarily about income. Wages grew at a lower rate than productivity for way too long.
It’s a bit of a puzzle why we allowed this to occur. Theoretically, the system is meant to respond to poverty wages in some way or form.
We haven’t seen protests or civil unrest regarding the mismatch of productivity (what workers give their employer) and wages (what employers give their workers).
In the era of social media and hyper connectivity, organising labour to negotiate higher wages should be easier than ever. Surely that is what workers want? Well, the following chart suggests the opposite.
Union membership dropping
Union membership has been in a free fall for the last 40 years.
In 1983 over 50 per cent of Australians were members of a trade union.
Today a mere 12 per cent of workers are represented by a union.
Macro-trends of course are at play here too.
We transitioned from manufacturing (union territory) towards knowledge work (not your stereotypical union territory). Even allowing for the effects of this transition we’d expect union membership to be much higher. Surely most of the 896,000 secondary job holders would be in favour of seeing wages grow to a level that allows them to get by with a single job?
So why aren’t unions more popular?
Are they operating in an old-fashioned manner that doesn’t appeal to the workers of 2022? Were things not bad enough so far?
Is collective bargaining compatible with the individualistic mindset? Did WorkSafe kill part of the need for unions to exist?
Are workers scared of competition from overseas and from robots, so they’d rather not ask for more wages?
In Australia wage rises that were negotiated by unions also apply to non-union members. This might discourage workers to becoming union members and ultimately decrease the influence that unions could have since they represent only a small share of workers directly.
No matter how, wages must grow and cost of living must be kept down (especially housing) to ensure the Australian bargain still delivers: work hard, afford a humble home, and have a decent life.
A second job should be a choice not a necessity.
Demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is a co-founder of The Demographics Group. His columns, media commentary and public speaking focus on current socio-demographic trends and how these impact Australia. Follow Simon on Twitter or LinkedIn for daily data insights.