Growing up, my parents worked multiple jobs. As an adult, my wife and I have done the same. Now some prominent politicians suggest that two-job workers are a sign of economic weakness. That shows they don’t understand family budgets or the truth about the broader economy.
Part of the attack is purely political. National economic growth is a problem for Democrats wishing to win the presidency, as is the low unemployment rate. Dismissing that low rate as a product of overworked, two-job individuals is how some politicians have responded.
Yet low unemployment numbers are not the result of people working multiple jobs. The unemployment rate is calculated on an individual basis. It counts the number of people without a job who are actively looking for one. A person with multiple jobs does not lower the unemployment rate any more than someone with a single job.
Furthermore, economic data doesn’t suggest two-job individuals are common, let alone widespread. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5 percent of the 162 million Americans who have jobs hold more than one job. And just 5 percent of that 5 percent hold two full-time jobs.
That’s why those with multiple jobs worked an average of 42.95 hours, compared to 39.7 hours among those working one job.
Only 325,000 people—0.2 percent of the workforce—work more than 70 hours a week. And many of those individuals do so by choice, and for praiseworthy reasons. I know, because I’ve lived it.
Growing up, my local public school had poor performance and wouldn’t meet my needs. So my mom chose to homeschool me, which is a full-time job in itself. But she also cleaned office buildings, and took on part-time positions as an administrative assistant. Meanwhile, my dad worked in IT—at one point, holding two full-time IT jobs at the same time—and cleaned office buildings. Growing up, I often helped them with cleaning work and had a janitorial job in high school.
When my wife and I were first married, I held a full-time job as a state budget analyst. She worked as an executive assistant. But we also cleaned homes and office buildings. I also worked as a driver for a car dealership, and my wife worked as a clerk. Why? We did those extra jobs to save money for a down payment on a home, to purchase a car, to save money for our first baby and choose better educational options for our children.
The free-market system allows people to improve their lot in life through hard work. In many cases, a person working two jobs is not a sign of the free market’s flaws, but proof of its value. Rather than “pity” those who choose to work hard, politicians should praise them—and the system that has so richly benefitted those individuals.
Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).