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When one job won’t pay the bills and several gigs is the new normal

Tough. Like slavery. Difficult and ineffectual. A few of the sentiments expressed by 83 participants who responded to an Yle straw poll about the rigours of holding down multiple jobs. The views indicate that for the most part, moonlighting can easily become a physical drain and lead to exhaustion. For others, extra work gigs provide a pleasant change of routine and welcome extra income.

Kahvilatyöntekijä kaataa maitoa kahviin.
Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

According to the latest statistics from the EU data agency Eurostat, the number of people in Finland holding down multiple jobs has jumped 95,000 in 2005 to 145,000 in 2015.

Helsinki University’s professor of social and public policy Heikki Hiilamo said that one reason why some people elect to moonlight in a second or even third job is that there are currently many part-time and low-paying positions on offer. He said that it could be, however, that the pay for these positions is too low to survive on, or rents may be too high, forcing workers to take on one or more part-time positions so they can pay the bills.

Hiilamo speculated that others are happy to take on diverse work assignments because they also have a broad set of skills which makes them suited to short-term or part-time work . He noted that society’s transition from an industrialised to a knowledge- and skills-based economy has also changed the culture of working.

Exhaustion a common thread

Yle invited Hiilamo to read the accounts of 83 members of the public who volunteered to tell their stories about moonlighting at different jobs. The university professor said many of the responses conveyed a general sense of exhaustion. He said this especially seemed to be the case if people ended up taking a second job because one salary was insufficient to cover living expenses and the second job came on top of a full week’s work.

For many respondents the work week was made up of puzzle pieces of different job placements. Some had one or several so-called zero-hours work contracts, which generally provide from zero to 37.5 hours of employment each week. With such a precarious job situation, many people with zero-hours contracts find themselves resorting to additional temporary gigs to make ends meet.

A minority of the 83 respondents in Yle’s unofficial survey viewed several work postings as a means of enrighing their lives. This was especially the case for those who took on additional duties voluntarily, had no families, found the extra work pleasant and said it supplemented their incomes. They said that one advantage to moonlighting was the variety it offered; in some cases gigs on the side related to a particular hobby, such as singing.

Anna Ruokamo
At just 26, Anna Ruokamo has held down three jobs at the same time. She is now studying for a Master's degree in Theology and has managed to find a full-time position as a substitute with an interior design firm. Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

"Society needs people with multiple skills, but also low-paying sectors"

According to Hiilamo the growing complexity of modern society will continue to lead to increasing numbers of different part-time or short-term jobs, particularly in specialist fields. Gone are the days when an individual could train for just one profession and spend a lifetime in one full-time position, he added.

The social and public policy expert called for low-paying work to be reserved to provide employment for less-educated workers. He pointed out however, that one problem with this theory is that students are currently snapping up those kinds of positions since they are flexible and provide a source of income while they are studying.

"We already have low-paying fields and we do need them. It works if these low-wage sectors are for those on the lower rungs of society, and who should be able to work their way up," Hiilamo remarked.

"Of those who have only completed basic education, less than half are employed. In other words, the majority are unemployed or not even in the labour market. That’s a big portion and it has been growing continuously," he added.

Hiilammo said that people would do well to remember that earnings from even the lowest-wage jobs are higher than income from unemployment benefits or income subsidies, as long as the job is full-time. He declared that few people in full-time employment or those who are holding down multiple part-time jobs live below the poverty line.

New regulations have made it possible for people receiving unemployment benefits to earn up to 300 euros each month without being sanctioned for working. The university professor said that currently 20 percent of the people in Finland receiving social benefits are now supplementing their incomes by finding work.

It’s not about low incomes, but expensive housing

Hiilamo pointed out that in the Helsinki region, the reason some residents have trouble making ends meet isn’t always because they aren’t earning enough. Rather it is mainly because of high living expenses.

"Incomes from a single job are so small that someone working on a zero-hours contract may have so few hours of work than he or she needs several different jobs to be able to put together enough money for rent. More often than not it’s all about the rent: it’s often the biggest expense."

The professor said that it’s time to rein in rising rents so that work would become profitable and people would not have to juggle more than one job just to stay afloat.

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