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Column: When working a second job isn’t a ‘side hustle’

Brett Herrmann
Brett Herrmann

I think it was an Uber advertisement where I recently heard the term “side hustle” used on multiple occasions, as the ride sharing app is looking to recruit more drivers.

Work when you want. Make extra cash. It’s the trendy thing to do.

We see a lot of terms re-branded to make them sound more attractive. A sewer plant is now a “wastewater facility.” A social media personality is an “influencer.” Do these new terms have much of an impact on most things? Not really. It’s just semantics.

But why “side hustle” stands out to me is because it seems to want to normalize the idea of working more than the standard 40 hours. Let’s call it what it really is — a second job.

Now, I take no issue with people wanting to work more. If they have the time and energy to go out and make extra money and enjoy doing it — more power to them. But some people don’t take a second job because they are working toward an early retirement or are paying for that trip to Europe. They are working a second job because it is a financial necessity. Glamorizing and embracing that concept because your regular full-time work isn’t enough to pay the bills is a dangerous concept that I really don’t see benefitting the workforce moving forward.

Generations of laborers fought for the eight-hour work day with the slogan “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will.” And the eight hours for what you will are something I hope people take seriously for their physical and mental health. Personally, those hours are where I get to relax, exercise, try to cook a sort-of-healthy meal, and do some non-work related reading and writing. While it would be nice to be able to earn some extra money out of those hours, I personally place more value on recharging my energy levels, de-stressing and having fun, but I understand that’s not an option for everyone.

Yes, paychecks are bigger than they were decades ago, but the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar is not nearly what it was. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average hourly wage increased from $2.50 to $22.65 between 1964 to 2018. But when accounting for inflation, wage growth is flat with that $2.50 in 1964 being about as valuable then as $22.65 is now. The Pew Research center shows the little growth that does exists is mostly for the top 25% of earners in the United States, so the middle-to-lower class workers have taken on the brunt of wage stagnation, which is where the need for a second job factors in.

Now, while the term “side hustle” might be new, getting a second job is not. The number of people in the United States holding more than one job at the same time has actually gone down in recent years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5.1% of workers held more than one job at the same time in August 2019. That has dipped a little from when it used to be more than 6% in the 1990s.

I hope it keeps trending that way. I hope those people who are working more than one job are doing it because they want to. And I really hope we don’t latch onto the term “side hustle” when all we’re really saying is we need a second job because the first doesn’t earn enough money.

Brett Herrmann can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or bherrmann@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SpringValley.

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