The need for a moonlighting gig goes far beyond those working in retail, fast food and other minimum wage jobs — teachers, law enforcement officers, social workers and nonprofit professionals find themselves looking for a side hustle or two to pay the bills and save toward a brighter future.
According to the Pew Research Center, today’s real average wage — the wage after accounting for inflation — has the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. That means that the $4.03 per hour rate recorded in 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today. In addition, the gains in wages that have happened in the last few decades have mostly benefited the highest tier of workers while those in the middle and on the bottom have remained stagnant.
In 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services set the federal poverty level at $24,600 for a family of four, which is the equivalent to $11.83 per hour for a full-time worker. A worker making the minimum wage of $7.20 per hour would be below the poverty level — even a family of two both working minimum wage would still fall under the federal poverty guidelines.
Despite the fact that wages haven’t kept pace with the cost of living, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that only 4.9 percent of people in the U.S. reported working a second job in 2017 — a decrease since the 1990s.
“After reaching a peak of 6.2 percent during 1995-96, the multiple jobholding rate began to recede. By the mid-2000s, the rate had declined to 5.2 percent and remained close to that level from 2006 to 2009. In 2010, the multiple jobholding rate decreased to 4.9 percent and has remained at 4.9 percent or 5 percent from 2010 to 2017,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in July 2018.
However, the devil’s always in the details. Just like figuring out the true unemployment rate, the number of people working multiple jobs can be difficult to calculate. BLS collects such data from a Current Population Survey administered by the U.S. Census Bureau and the results rely on in-person or telephone interviews of people over a period of time. It’s likely the survey sample could be skewed if people are working multiple jobs and can’t be reached for the survey.
The working poor also move residences more often and are less likely to have a landline telephone, making it more difficult to interview people more likely to have more than one job. Even if people can be reached for an interview, the data assumes people are being honest about how many jobs they work. If someone is being paid under the table for a side job, they are unlikely to be honest with a federal government employee about their job status.
Teachers are some of the first to come to mind when looking into professions that sometimes require a moonlighting job whether it’s during the summer months or throughout the year.
According to data from the 2015-16 National Teacher and Principal Survey, 18 percent of full-time public school teachers had a job outside their school system.
Teachers categorized these jobs as teaching or tutoring (5 percent), non-teaching, but related to the teaching field (4 percent), or in another field (9 percent). A higher percentage of teachers in schools in the Northeast and Midwest (both 19 percent) worked in a job outside their school system than teachers in schools in the South and West (both 17 percent).
The average salary for teachers in North Carolina — which includes supplemental pay from the local level — was more than $50,000 for the first time in 2018, but it still falls below the national average of about $55,000 a year. North Carolina legislators also increased the base salary for new teachers to $35,000 a year, but that doesn’t go far, especially if you’re a single parent with children.
Nationally, full-time public school teachers who supplemented their income earned an average of $5,100 from jobs outside their school system.
Pay for law enforcement is still extremely low, especially in rural counties in Western North Carolina where detention center officers start out making $12 to $14 an hour in many cases. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the national average salary for a detention officer in 2011 was $43,550. Officers in the lowest 10 percent of the profession earn up to $27,000 while those in the top 10 make about $69,000 a year. Unfortunately, the average annual wage for officers in North Carolina is $29,680.
Many officers work private security gigs on the side to supplement their income and others have started their own businesses in addition to working full-time and on-call hours. Haywood and Swain County Sheriff’s Offices don’t have any policy in place to regulate secondary jobs.
Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran said he has to approve any secondary job his deputies want to take on, but that he doesn’t have a policy in place.
“Many of them have to work second jobs because of the low wages,” he said. “I can’t blame them.”
Macon County Sheriff’s Office does have a policy in place that allows officers to have another job, but it has to be approved by the sheriff first.
“Our policy is anybody can have a secondary job but it must meet my approval first,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. “In my 16 years as sheriff, I’ve never turned down an officer for a secondary job, but the reason for that policy is I have to make sure the officer is doing a job that’s not detrimental to their job here.”
Ginger Burnette of Waynesville manages an Airbnb rental and is a nanny for another family to make ends meet. Jessi Stone photo
For example, a deputy sheriff can’t start a business as a private investigator because it’s a conflict of interest. Holland said he has many officers who are also skilled tradesmen who take on occasional side projects for extra money. He also has officers who’ve started their own businesses or who work for other law enforcement agencies as well. Before he was sheriff, Holland said he worked part-time at a grocery store and part-time at a video rental store while he was also a deputy.
“The hard part about having a secondary job, especially if you’re a K9 officer or a tactical team member, is they have to be available to go so if you’re doing a secondary job that doesn’t allow you to leave at moment’s notice it won’t work out,” Holland said. “This job has to be first priority.”
Macon County Sheriff’s Office has deputies who also work for Franklin Police Department. That too can become complicated. For example, if a deputy is involved in a shooting and placed on administrative leave during the investigation it also impacts the other agency’s staffing.
“One of the toughest parts about being a cop is that you have to be really careful to make sure to leave within your means, but if an officer needs to provide for their family, we’re going to support that all the way,” Holland said. “It’s not fair for officers to have the expertise they go to school for and to hold them back.”
Becoming a law enforcement officer might not require as much college education as it does to become a teacher, but it can come with more dangerous work conditions. Detention officers, who are often paid less starting out than road deputies, are dealing with overcrowded jails and the overwhelming majority of inmates have some kind of mental health or substance use problem.
“The pay’s never going to be enough — these officers will always deserve more, but it’s disheartening for our officers when they see other agencies paying more or officers with less experience making more — it’s incredibly disheartening,” Holland said.
Many law enforcement officers in Western North Carolina work for multiple agencies or have moonlighting jobs to supplement their income. File photo
No rest for the weary
It’s a Saturday morning, a time when many people are enjoying a hot cup of coffee, but Ginger Burnette hasn’t even had time for her first cup yet. She’s been up for hours washing sheets, making beds and scrubbing toilets. When she’s done with the housekeeping work at an Airbnb rental, she’s going to someone else’s home for a few hours to clean and take care of their children.
“I really never have a full day off,” she said. “It’s hard to find time to clean my own house.”
During the week, Burnette works for a small nonprofit organization. It’s a long commute from Waynesville and the pay isn’t great, but the 30-hour-a-week job provides her with the health insurance and benefits she needs.
When she’s not working at an office, the single mom works as a nanny, an Airbnb manager and a housekeeper to make ends meet. She’s tired and her body is overworked as she deals with chronic back pain, but at 38, she said being able to pay her bills and provide for her kids is her top priority.
“It’s time-consuming and hard on my body, but I have to do it — I have one child in early college and one in middle school and I’m trying to buy a house so there’s no way around it,” she said.
Burnette is one of many people in Western North Carolina working multiple jobs to pay the bills, provide for a family and trying to save enough to improve their quality of life. For her, it’s not a temporary situation until she pays down some debt — it’s a long-term way of life to which she’s become accustomed.
“I’ve always had to have multiple jobs to make ends meet because one can’t give me enough hours or another doesn’t provide insurance. I had three jobs when I was younger while I also went to school and had two small kids at home,” she said. “I had to deal with homelessness as a child and as an adult I had to deal with it one time with my kids — I’m not going to let that happen again.”
While her children are now old enough to mostly watch after themselves, Burnette is a nanny and housekeeper for another family two to three days a week. She also manages an Airbnb house in Waynesville that rents out four rooms separately. While the job is flexible, she has to be available 24/7 to help the guests with anything they may need during their trip or to answer questions from potential guests online.
“I do the cleaning for all four rooms and I have to be on call 24/7 to be a good host. Someone we rented to got stuck in the snow a couple weeks ago and I had to go help dig them out,” she said. “The whole house is currently rented right now so that keeps me busy.”
Burnette graduated in 2008 with an associate’s degree in business administration. Her dream has always been to use that degree to start her own nonprofit and help single-parent families with child care and other financial challenges. She’d also like to go back to school and complete her four-year degree, but says it’s just not in the cards right now with everything on her plate.
“If I could combine all the money I make with three jobs into one and have benefits, that’s what I really need,” she said. “Having three jobs still hasn’t allowed me to do a whole lot — it just relieves the stress of paying bills. I don’t feel like we spend any good family time together and I have to rely heavily on my daughter to step up and be a grownup at 15, but I couldn’t ask for better kids.”
She’s also working on her goal of becoming a homeowner, which has also been a challenge. Even though she has a great credit score, her debt ratio is too high because of her car loan, making it difficult to get approved for the loan she needs to buy a house. She’s thought about applying for a Habitat for Humanity home but was told she doesn’t earn enough of a salary to qualify and even if she did, she’d need to work on her debt ratio.
“I’ve always lived in places either income-based or had all these restrictions. I’d love to have my own home so I can do what I want with my own home,” she said. “When my kids are older at some point it could be an income-producing property for them. I want them to have it easier than I did when my mom passed away. It’s one of the only things I can give my kids.”
Teacher by day, server by night
Sandra Hermida moved back to Haywood County 10 years ago from Montana with her three children to be closer to family.
“It wasn’t the original plan, but divorce and life happens,” she said.
With degrees in archeology and cultural heritage from the University of Montana and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in education, Hermida looked into what it would take to become a teacher in North Carolina. She went through the lateral entry program and has taught eighth-grade science at Waynesville Middle School for the last four years.
“When I moved back here I worked for my dad for a while and then I was interpreting (Spanish) at the health department, but I felt education was extremely important, especially in helping people get out of poverty,” she said. “As an interpreter, I’ve worked with a lot of immigrants who’ve come here for their children to have better life.”
While teaching is a rewarding job for Hermida, she also has to wait tables at least a few nights a week so she can put food on the table. She also works for Folkmoot International Festival during the summer. Moonlighting as a server is something she’s used to and something she’s been doing on and off since she was 16 years old.
“I’m a single mom so it’s my other income. I don’t make enough teaching to pay my bills,” she said. “Well, my teaching job pays the bills but then it’s gone so if we want to eat and do anything else I have to work another job.”
Like many other teachers, Hermida does spend some of her own money on supplies for her science students — things like colored pencils, highlighters and other items her students forget to bring or can’t afford themselves. However, she also goes after classroom grants offered through nonprofits and businesses. This year she secured two grants — one from Lowe’s for her Science Olympiad team and one from the Haywood County Schools Foundation.
Being a teacher takes dedication and many hours of work outside of classroom time. Teachers are there well after students leave the building grading and preparing lesson plans for the upcoming week.
“It’s really funny how teaching is one of the only jobs where you have to have a degree, and do continuing education and maintain viability but there’s not much room to grow and you don’t get significant raises,” she said.
Many of her colleagues are in the same boat — they either earn a supplement by coaching a sport or they work a moonlighting or summertime job to make more money. Sometimes the second job is a necessity and sometimes it’s temporary until they save up for something specific.
There have been a couple of times Hermida has had to go to Haywood Christian Ministries or The Open Door for assistance with buying propane in the winter or paying a bill. Though she never thought she’d find herself in such a position, she considers herself fortunate to have a roof over her head and a healthy family. She’s saving for her retirement through a 401K plan and has a small life insurance policy for her kids in case something happens to her.
“I guess I can get resentful sometimes because I’m constantly working and still don’t have any extra money. Friends go out and I don’t go or I don’t buy clothing for myself until I absolutely have to,” she said. “But I really can’t complain — I have car and a car payment, a roof over my head and I’m very fortunate my kids have what they need.”
Unemployment rates in Western North Carolina as of November 2018
- Population: 59,577
- Unemployment rate: 2.7 percent
- Living below poverty line: 15.9 percent
- Population: 41,227
- Unemployment rate: 2.8 percent
- Living below poverty line: 20.9 percent
- Population: 14,234
- Unemployment rate: 2.8 percent
- Living below poverty line: 16.7 percent
- Population: 33,991
- Unemployment rate: 2.9 percent
- Living below poverty line: 16.4 percent
Source: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics
See how your family measures up
Living Wage Calculator — Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator measures the income a family needs in order to attain a modest yet adequate standard of living. The budgets estimate community-specific costs for 10 family types (one or two adults with zero to four children) in all counties and metro areas in the United States. Compared with the federal poverty line and the Supplemental Poverty Measure, EPI’s family budgets provide a more accurate and complete measure of economic security in America.