More workers are choosing to hold down multiple jobs

September 04, 2005|By Jay Hancock

AT 2:20 A.M. on a moonlit Thursday, James Cliff carries a packed lunch - or is it breakfast? - from his Elkridge house to his Dodge pickup in the driveway.

Ham sandwich, Doritos, soda and a bagel. Just because he earns two paychecks doesn't mean he's blowing money on restaurants. That's not how his dad taught him.

From now until 5:30 p.m. he'll sling boxes onto UPS trucks, work insurance claims for Allstate and contribute more to the gross national product in a day than some workers do in a week. Good thing both jobs have free coffee.

Where else but America?

In France, the workweek was limited by law until this year to 35 hours to try to spread scarce jobs more broadly, if thinly.

U.S. companies, by contrast, can theoretically work employees 24/7, and employees can take it or leave it.

James Cliff is taking - with both hands, as are many others. The number of people working two or more jobs in the United States has grown by 350,000 in three years to 7.6 million, according to the government.

It's not necessarily a bad sign. Belying the perception of multiple jobholding as a token of hard times, history shows that moonlighting ebbs and flows with the larger business cycle. An expanding economy means not just that more people can work; it means more people can work multiple jobs, if they want.

"When the economy's going bad there's not the opportunity" to moonlight, said John Stinson, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "You might lose one job."

Indeed, multiple jobholding has grown almost exactly at the same rate as the economy and represents about the same portion of the employed - 5.3 percent - as it did in 2000.

James Cliff, who turned 40 last month, was working for Allstate six years ago when his social worker wife, Linda, now 37, became pregnant with daughter Nina. Should they give up two incomes so Linda could raise the baby? Or should she return to work after the delivery and get day care?

Neither, was the ultimate decision. After a year on one income, with stretches to pay off credit card balances each month and contribute to the 401(k) plan, James took a night job at the UPS Burtonsville distribution center.

He kept the Allstate gig and started going to bed at 7:30 p.m. so he could get up at 2 a.m. to get to UPS and then go directly to Allstate by 9 a.m. Five days a week. Sixty-five or so paid hours a week, and more during the year-end holidays.

There was a lifestyle shock, "a sink-or-swim sort of feeling" for months. "I'm used to it now," he says, as if it were a new pair of shoes. "I got right into a part-time management position" at UPS. "Got a good raise. And then it was sort of comfortable. I was putting money back in savings and retirement. Bills were easy to handle. I wasn't sweating out every paycheck."

Together the jobs bring in about $64,000 a year, plus medical benefits and pension and 401(k) plans, James Cliff says. He and Linda have paid down $40,000 of their $190,000 mortgage, saved $20,000 or so for college for Nina and brother Jason and have $40,000 in retirement plans.

He likes both companies, his commutes are short, he doesn't work weekends and one job is a mental challenge while the other is a good counterbalance of physical activity. He lost 30 pounds after starting at UPS. What's the downside?

"It affects my relationship with my wife, I'm sure," he says. He doesn't watch TV and has no idea what Allstate co-workers are talking about when they discuss The Shield, for example. He has no time for pickup basketball or hockey, although he keeps in touch with friends from the University of Maryland, College Park.

His five-year anniversary at UPS comes in November. He's going to do this "no less than three years," meaning he might quit when Jason is older. Linda wants to return to nursing-home social work someday. Even so, he's not sure even then he'll cut back to one job and live like most of the rest of the world.

What makes him so financially, uh, responsible?

"My father. No doubt about it," James Cliff says. Gene Cliff, a former Navy pilot, "preached a lot of good financial advice. When we were little, the boys got jobs and the girls did chores at home. ... I've worked since I was 9," starting as a paperboy and getting conditioned to long hours by working in the rent-a-car business after college.

The work ethic, a now-dead sociologist called it, was traced it to European settlers who equated diligence and success with religious righteousness.

Much of the world thinks this kind of behavior is crazy. James Cliff thinks he's doing what's best for his family.

Happy Labor Day.

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