Moonlighting's a way of life for workers in tough job market

Most weekdays at 5:30 p.m., after putting in eight hours as an insurance agent in Lawrenceville, Ga., April Hamby scurries about 100 yards to the Kroger supermarket two doors away. She's not there to pick up some milk and bread. Instead, Hamby, 35, works an additional six hours as a cashier before driving home 35 miles and slipping into bed by 2 a.m. so she can get up at 7 a.m. and begin the grind anew. She also works at Kroger many weekends.

"Some days I want to walk next door and say, 'I just can't do this anymore,' but then I think of all the things I have to do with the money," she says.

Many Americans are coping with the worst job market in a generation by doubling up. They're scrambling to pick up the slack as they, or their partners, lose jobs, endure pay cuts or watch their retirement savings shrivel. Job jugglers often earn a fraction of what their families cleared before the slump, but the double duty at least lets them scrape by.

"There's been a definite pickup (in holders of multiple jobs)," says Roy Krause, CEO of Spherion, one of the USA's largest staffing firms. "More and more, we're seeing it as a necessity."

Moonlighting takes a toll on workers, adding stress and leaving little time for friends, family or leisure. Yet in some cases it offers a creative outlet and even a springboard to a new career.

Second jobs more popular

About 10% of Americans surveyed by CareerBuilder.com in March said they'd taken a second job in the last year; 18% said they planned to do so in 2009. Middle-aged workers are even more likely to double up. An AARP Bulletin survey last month found 19% of Americans 45 to 54 worked a second job the past year. "They're responsible for elderly parents, as well as their kids," says Steve Williams, research director for the Society for Human Resource Management.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were an average 7.6 million holders of multiple jobs the first five months of this year, or 5.3% of all employees, about the same as last year.

Workers are often driven to moonlighting by a partner's layoff. The U.S. unemployment rate rose from 8.9% to 9.4% in May. The average workweek shrank to 33.1 hours, lowest since 1964, as employers imposed furloughs and slashed hours or pay. Hamby took the Kroger job in August after her husband, Joey, saw his income as a house painter dwindle amid the real estate slump.

"The cupboards were getting bare, and I could hardly make my house note and car payment," Hamby says, adding the couple — with three daughters 11 to 16 — were falling behind on utility bills.

The Kroger job pays about $200 a week to supplement her $40,000-a-year salary at State Farm Insurance. "It really helps with gas and groceries," she says.

Yet that's less than a quarter of her husband's former earnings. While the Hambys have caught up on bills, they've cut out weekly dinners out and Disney World trips. And moonlighting means time away from her daughters. "Usually I'm at every softball game."

There are bright spots. Hamby likes the Kroger stint, partly because of the chance "to interact with more customers." She has even quoted premiums and lassoed insurance prospects on the checkout line. And she so enjoys balancing the register and working with numbers, she might become an accountant.

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