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COVID-19 pandemic has cut into side jobs too

Twenty-dollar bills
Many workers are earning less now than before the pandemic.
(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

The pandemic’s effects on workers has been nothing short of devastating. In addition to fueling the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, it has caused even Americans who have jobs to earn less.

Meanwhile, parents of young children — among other workers — are considering dropping out of the workforce because of dueling responsibilities and discouragement about the job market.

Retirement challenges also have soared as an increasing number of Americans tap savings to get by. For millions, side hustles have become key to paying the rent.

Lost income

A raft of recent surveys look at how the pandemic is affecting workers. Surveys released by job-search website FlexJobs and personal finance sites DollarSprout and SimplyWise all show widespread upheaval and economic loss.

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Some 27% of workers are earning less now than when the pandemic began, according to SimplyWise’s survey this month of more than 1,000 American adults.

Retirement anxiety is up: Some 58% of those surveyed said they were more concerned about retiring than they were last September, SimplyWise found, and of those who haven’t retired yet, 73% expect to continue working after they start receiving Social Security benefits. Federal data show that about half of Social Security recipients work at least part-time.

Even side hustles have become less lucrative. Roughly a quarter of those who earn extra income on the side reported earning less than before the pandemic, DollarSprout found in a May survey of about 700 people.

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Demands for flexibility

The work-life changes look especially dramatic among working parents. Roughly 40% of them either voluntarily reduced their hours or quit, according to FlexJobs’ September survey of more than 2,500 parents of minor children. Of those who quit, nearly 4 in 10 said they don’t plan to go back to work.

Because a lot of schools remain closed to in-person learning, parents have been coping with the daunting task of juggling work and, often, multiple school schedules. That has left parents appreciating work-life balance more than ever.

Nearly 8 in 10 parents surveyed said work-life balance was a top consideration when weighing the benefits of a new job; 77% said salary was a top determinant. Having flexible work options, such as four-day work weeks and staggered schedules, ranked just below salary, with 73% of those polled placing it as a top priority.

Some good news

Half of working parents surveyed by FlexJobs said they’ve been more productive working from home than they were in the office. Despite the challenges of balancing kids and work in shared space, half of the parents said that if their children’s schools continue remote learning for the whole academic year, they’ll keep working from home. Another 22% plan to ask to work from home under those circumstances.

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Other studies indicate that employers are likely to be receptive to the idea. Research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25% to 30% of workers will be allowed to work from home multiple days each week by the end of next year. Before the pandemic, only about 4% of Americans worked at home half time or more.

Side hustles

At a time when unemployment is rampant, many people are relying on side gigs to make ends meet. Of those surveyed by DollarSprout, 27% said they used their side hustle income to pay monthly bills. But the bulk of respondents still use side hustle income mainly to pay off debts and buy things they could otherwise not afford.

Side hustlers are not necessarily the people you would expect to be moonlighting. DollarSprout’s survey found that the majority have college degrees and that one-third have an annual income of more than $75,000. And these gigs aren’t just the purview of the young: One third of side hustlers are over age 54, DollarSprout found.

Notably, the survey found that 33% of side hustlers earn more than $500 per month from their side gigs. Of those, 80% work on their side jobs less than 15 hours per week.

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Best-paid side jobs

The most common side hustles involve using gig apps such as Uber, Swagbucks and Postmates that don’t demand special skills, according to DollarSprout.

But the best-paid side gigs involve providing skilled services, such as freelance writing and web design. Of side hustlers who earn more than $1,000 per month, 58% provide a skilled service, the site says.

A growing number of online platforms now connect skilled workers with highly paid positions in accounting, human resources, marketing, technology and other fields.

Some of the better professionals-only platforms are Working Not Working (for writers, artists, illustrators, filmmakers and web designers), FlexProfessionals (for lawyers, administrators and public relations and communications pros), WAHVE (for those in the insurance, human resources and accounting fields) and consulting platforms such as Gerson Lehrman, Zintro and Maven.


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