More working couples are finding that two jobs just aren't enough

August 16, 1994|By New York Times News Service

When Robin Thornburg lost her job as a $25,000-a-year paralegal, she was scared.

Her husband, David, an office clerk, made barely enough to cover the groceries and the rent on their $700-a-month apartment in Arlington, Va. So, she is trying to make up the lost income by working two jobs -- as a full-time clerk for a loan company and a part-time bookkeeper for a company that rents out bodyguards.

"It kind of stinks, the two of us having so many jobs," said Mrs. Thornburg, who at age 24 matches her former pay of $600 a week, but works 55 hours to earn it. "You argue about money and about hours, and on top of everything, we are both trying to get through college. We go different ways too much."

The Thornburgs are not alone. Just as women entered the labor force in huge numbers in the 1970s and '80s, giving rise to the two-earner family, in the '90s one of these earners is taking on a second job, giving rise to the three-job marriage.

New Labor Department surveys of multiple jobholders, which this year, for the first time, are being compiled every month, give statistical underpinning to a trend that had been discernible largely through anecdote.

Today, 7 million Americans, or 6 percent of the work force, occupy 15 million jobs. Most multiple jobholders are married and, increasingly, nearly as many are women as men.

No other nation approaches the United States in multiple jobholders, and the clear implication of such comparative analysis, says Richard Freeman, a Harvard labor economist, is that in other countries, wages from one job are sufficient.

"You would have thought that as women entered the work force, that would have been enough additional income, and dual job holding would have declined," Mr. Freeman said. "Instead, the opposite has happened. Women going to work have not brought in enough income."

Some of the three-job couples go this route because one spouse wants to break into a new line of work that is more satisfying or better paying. But the biggest portion, more than 40 percent, take the extra work to pay bills, these and other Labor Department surveys show.

Nathan M. Gundy III and his fiancee, Dorva Dowdy, 28, of Baltimore fall into both categories.

She is a $35,000-a-year computer specialist at a bank, and he is a corporate lawyer by day, while at night musicians and performers make up his clientele.

After getting his law degree in 1988, he was a clerk for a judge and then worked for a year at a prestigious Washington law firm, earning $68,000, finally leaving to open his own practice, negotiating contracts for entertainers.

"I had gotten some entertainment clients and I wanted to give this a go before I got too far down the line in my career," Mr. Gundy said.

Before this year, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics had counted multiple jobholders only periodically, with the last survey in 1991 and the one before that, in 1989.

Until the 1980s, those soundings showed, most dual jobholders were men with full-time employment who moonlighted part time. Now almost as many women are dual jobholders. They, too, usually combine full-time and part-time work, the new monthly surveys show, although women are more likely than men to hold two part-time jobs.

Wage stagnation has played a big role in pushing married people into so much work, economists say. For three decades after World War II, incomes mostly rose, but in the early 1970s, the progress stopped. Since then 80 percent of the nation's households have failed to gain ground, after their incomes -- mostly in wages -- were adjusted for inflation.

For many people, their "raise" came from taking second and third jobs. Labor Secretary Robert Reich said he had run into the phenomenon in numerous conversations during his travels as a member of the Cabinet.

"It is symptomatic of the erosion of relatively well-paying employment," said Mr. Reich, who as a teacher and writer at Harvard had devoted a lot of his attention to wage and job issues.

Among multiple jobholders who are counted, college professors, public school teachers and police officers are well represented. So are single mothers, divorcees and widows.

As for Mr. Gundy, he says his private practice continues, bringing in $40,000 a year. But with marriage approaching, he decided that he needed more. So, he has joined another Washington law firm, holding a temporary job at $500 a week.

"I decided that I needed to put a couple of more boats in the water," Mr. Gundy said, "for a little more security."

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