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 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.

Yet CareerBuilder Vice President Rosemary Haefner says clients should weigh the benefits of a second job against the toll it takes. After commuting and child care costs, "It may not be that much more money in your pocket," she says.

Those who moonlight should do so in a field they "have a passion about," says Melanie Holmes of Manpower employment. "If you're a sports nut, get a job in a sporting goods store."

Gardening for dollars

Last year, Christy Larman's husband, Bill, a factory manager, lost his job and had to take a lower-paying slot. So Larman joined the assembly line at a packaging plant. Then, when Bill's workweek was cut to four days, Christy, 46, got a part-time gig at a garden center. The packaging job "is very robotic," says the Dover, Ohio, resident. At the garden center, where she takes care of plants, runs the register and helps customers, "I get to use (my) creative side."

Still, the jobs are draining. After a 7 a.m.-to-3 p.m. factory shift, she works at the garden center 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on weekends. "I may be sore and I've got to stand on my feet X more hours."

Moonlighting means the couple are no longer tapping savings and are even putting away some money. But Christy's jobs pay minimum wage, and the Larmans earn two-thirds of Bill's former salary. Out: movies. In: $1 video rentals.

Some job jugglers up the ante. Billy Myers of Springfield, Mo., has three jobs to get by. After getting his master's degree in experimental psychology, he couldn't find a job as a researcher. So he landed a spot as an analyst for an outdoor-gear chain. But his $28,000 salary doesn't cover expenses. So, in the evenings this spring he taught a research class at Drury University and a psychology class at Missouri State. After class, he logs up to four hours on lesson plans.

At his day job, "I turn over numbers," he says. "But it's not as fulfilling as seeing a student finally get something."

Experts differ over whether moonlighters should come clean about other gigs with their bosses. Holmes tells clients "to be honest" but to emphasize "it won't affect their first job." But career coach Eileen Blumenthal says it's OK not to be candid these days. "Clients that might have been quite open" are more cautious now. "The stakes are so high."