Marissa Federspiel has a full-time day job at a hardware store. The 31-year-old also has a night job as a paid caregiver for her elderly uncle, who lives with her. When she tries to get some sleep, she often is awakened by her 16-month-old. Now she’s thinking about taking on a third gig.
“Most days I’m a walking zombie,” says Federspiel, who lives in Albany. “I still have some sanity left but I often feel stretched thin. Working so much can put a huge strain on your mental health. Coffee helps and so does inner strength.”
Working 80 hours a week is the norm for her. That’s what it can take to get by in the Bay Area, where housing prices and rents are among the highest in the nation. Many people have to work multiple jobs to get by. Some work six days a week, holding down three separate paid positions. Others cobble together various side hustles to make ends meet.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that just 5 percent of workers nationwide hold two or more jobs, but that doesn’t track people who are paid in cash. That’s why some experts peg the number of workers with more than one job much higher. In their recent Side Hustle survey, Bankrate reported that 38 percent of those surveyed hold down a side job, and one third of these folks say they need the dough to make ends meet.
“Back in the day, if you had one full-time job, the expectation would be that you could make it. Nowadays, for many people, it takes multiple jobs,” says Amanda Dixon, an analyst at Bankrate. “It’s a little disturbing to see how many people need that money to survive.”
While many associate the Bay Area with its well-heeled high-tech work force, keeping your head above water is no mean feat for other folks who must cope with the high cost of living on lower salaries.
“The Bay Area is one of the most expensive places on the planet,” says Chris Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles-based economics consulting firm. “It’s also got some of the highest incomes on the planet.”
If you are not among these top earners, however, the economic pressures are mounting. Renters must make about $127,000 a year to afford a modest, two-bedroom home in San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin counties, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition’s report on the nation’s most expensive counties.
“Housing is the biggest factor driving the cost of living in the Bay Area because it is so expensive,” says Patrick Kallerman, research director at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, “The gig economy is growing. People need the money.”
Tinamari Bekkali works about 25 hours a week in a marketing job and another 8 hours as a social media manager and web designer. The 30-year-old jams both gigs into her life as a stay-at-home mom with three kids, 13-month-old Sharif and twins Marvel and Eloise, eight. She often makes work calls while taking the baby for a walk.
“Honestly, I work on and off all day long. I get the most work done at nap time, bed time and weekend mornings when my husband is home to take over kid duty,” says Bekkali, who lives in Walnut Creek. “It’s super common for me to work on my phone during a play date, at the park, even while grocery shopping. Some days are absolutely insane.”
She would prefer to focus on the children but says paying the rent on the family’s three-bedroom house requires both parents to work. Her husband has a transportation business.
“It’s a financial necessity,” she says. “And our house is actually several hundred dollars less than they typically are in our area.”
Some people have a side hustle that brings them joy as well as money. Don Vigeant works as many hours as he can get as a hot tub installer, but his true passion lies in collecting vintage CDs, Tiki items and clothing to sell through his eBay store, Garb Safari.
“I love the thrill of the hunt,” says Vigeant, 48, of San Jose. “I’m a collector at heart and a Tiki fanatic. There’s a lot of nostalgia in it for me.”
Vigeant has been reinventing himself in middle age after the high-end printing company where he worked for 13 years closed down. He is hoping to grow his online brand into a full-time business going forward. For now, he thinks of both of his gigs as side hustles.
“I call them co-gigs because financial consistency can be elusive for either one at any given time,” says Vigeant, whose wife is a teacher.
Federspiel, meanwhile, is considering doing administrative work from home to bring in more cash. That would be her third job. But she needs the money. She estimates that she makes about $45,000 a year after taxes. She knows not having a college degree impacts her earning potential, but she dropped out of school in 2009 because she couldn’t afford it and needed to take care of her uncle. She had intended to get a business degree.
“I would love to go back to school in the future,” she says. “I’m hoping to take a few night classes once things aren’t so hectic.”
Her husband stays home to watch the baby, which makes paying the mortgage on her income alone a challenge. But she says child-care costs so much that it doesn’t make sense for both of them to work.
“The utility bills, the gas prices, the food prices, all of the bills just keep going up,” says Federspiel, as her son David burbles in the background. “No matter what we do, we can’t get ahead.”
That’s one of the reasons Bekkali dislikes the term “side hustle,” because it suggests that holding down multiple jobs is a way to pursue your passion. She says most people are just struggling to survive.
“It’s wrong that so many people have to do this to get by,” says Bekkali. “It’s not something to be proud of as a society.”
Juggling multiple jobs is also a way of life for Vivian Jafarkhani, who works six days a week at three different jobs. The 31-year-old is a full-time speech pathologist at a San Mateo County school during the week. After school she gives speech therapy. On weekends she works with special needs children.
“Bay Area living is awful,” she says. “I have three jobs, with a master’s degree. I never thought I’d have to work just as many hours after graduating as I did before I went to school. It’s necessary just to afford to live here.”
She and her husband save money on their mortgage by sharing their South San Francisco house with four roommates. It’s the only way they make ends meet, says Jafarkhani, who makes about $90,000 to $100,000 a year.
“My salary would be great if I lived out of this area,” she says. “I definitely wish I didn’t need to work so much or have so many roommates. I’m scared I’ll have to leave one day just to raise a family.”
Her husband works in tech, but she still blames the industry for throwing prices out of whack.
“I don’t disvalue tech, but they’ve definitely created this bubble of high cost of living, and the rest of us suffer. I’ve heard people say, ‘Just go into tech!’ But society needs more than just one field or type of professional,” says the educator. “I’m not sure how to solve it, but I hope it gets solved soon.”