Officially, only 4.9 percent of working Americans toil at more than one job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 5.2 percent in 2008, at the height of the Recession. So why are some commentators concerned that workers are being forced to work harder than ever to make ends meet? Three words: the underground economy.
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It’s rare these days not to know anyone who’s tried to monetize their hobby or stretch their skills to the occasional part-time gig. Often, that work is on top of the 40-plus hours workers spend at their full-time jobs, or in addition to another part-time gig that takes the place of a single, benefited position.
“More people have actually entered and remained in the underground economy than we have seen before,” says Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at Economic Outlook Group in Princeton, N.J., in an interview with The Boston Globe. Baumohl offered the examples of workers who had full-time jobs, but also worked as handymen or tutored on the side.
The problem is that while unemployment is at its lowest in five years, and companies aren’t laying off workers in the same amounts as they were a few years ago, wages have remained largely flat. Last quarter, the PayScale Index saw a growth in wages of only 0.2 percent; next quarter, The Index predicts only 0.7 percent.
A look at the Real Wages section of The PayScale Index tells an even grimmer story: Taking inflation into account, American workers have seen their wages decline 7.2 percent since 2006.
There’s another reason to rue the rise of this underground economy, of course: workers who labor at side jobs, sometimes on the fringes of being able to make ends meet, are much less likely to pay taxes on their earnings. And that’s bad for all of us, even the lucky ones who’ve managed to stay employed during the past few years, and make enough money to stick to one job.
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