More people are taking on second jobs because they literally can't afford not to

You’ve heard it before, the side-hustle success story. It usually comes from a person that seems perpetually on a diet of Red Bull and power bars speaking of “turning their passion making thermosus into a six-figure Instagram business,” or “transforming their shoebox garage into a luxury AirBnB.” 

In reality, most of us have an extra job, but that’s not because of some caffeine-fueled passion; rather, it’s simply because many can’t afford to just have one source of income in this economy. 

It’s a recent development, as 54% of Americans have added a side hustle “to supplement their primary income” within the past year, per a MarketWatch Guides study. While surveying a group of 2,000 Americans, the business-news website found that many are turning to another job just to make ends meet.

While inflation recently has ebbed, wages were outpaced by the high cost of living for a couple years. People are still feeling the sting from not being able to build wealth as much, as productivity increased and average worker pay moved at a relative snail’s pace. That all leads to 66% of Americans reporting to be living paycheck to paycheck, 57% of which add that they’ve tacked on other gigs to cushion their income.

In many sectors, one salary isn’t enough to live comfortably while saving for future expenses. Stephanie P., who works in one of the classically underpaid sectors as a teacher, spoke to EducationWeek about her hand being forced to pick up another gig as a part-time college instructor. “I do it because I have no choice. My second job pays my mortgage. I do what I have to do to survive in an economy where everything is going up in price … except my salary,” she said in 2022.

Unsurprisingly, the younger generations are more economically vulnerable, and therefore more likely to turn to extra jobs. Gen Zers and their millennial elders were also handed a different set of cards than their more senior counterparts, as they deal with an uphill housing market, ill-time recessions, and a volatile economy that setback savings and inflated student loans. It all results in Gen Zers being the most likely to have two jobs (at 71%), followed by millennials at 68%, Gen Xers at 48%, and boomers at 32%. 

Indeed, younger generations are hustling more, but they’re still not feeling all that financially comfortable. Analysis from Bank of America found these side hustles aren’t really cutting it, as younger generations were hustling more but still had little discretionary income to show for it. 

“The younger end of the spectrum is feeling relatively more constrained than their older counterparts,” Anna Zhou, economist at Bank of America Institute and the report’s author, told Fortune, asserting that the labor market is strong but there’s a “relative weakness among the younger generation.”

And some people are turning to extra jobs for not just income reasons: 48% of respondents who aren’t living paycheck to paycheck took on a side gig. Part of what likely is happening is that people are looking for extra stability, too, as trust between companies and their employers wanes during a time of layoffs in concentrated sectors.

But even with an extra job, overworked Americans are still feeling financially precarious. It’s a much steeper uphill battle for those who are already vulnerable, as those with a side hustle are more likely than those who don’t have one to report living paycheck-to-paycheck. And even with their added sources of income, 44% of those with side gigs report still feeling financially insecure. The top obstacles to both people with and without side-hustles include the high cost of living and not enough income. It seems as a second gig can’t even salve the sting of the current economy.

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