Lillie is “pretty much always looking for more and other work,” often juggling more jobs than she can legitimately handle. But that’s what she has to do to get by.
The 25-year-old theater teacher, who opted not to share her last name to protect her privacy, didn’t finish college. While she attended for four years and some change at different universities, she tells Fortune, the pandemic and mental health struggles prevented her from getting a degree. But that didn’t keep her from joining the 43.5 million Americans saddled with federal student loan debt.
“I’m in an insane amount of debt from school and dumb mistakes I made as a young adult,” says Lillie, who lives in Atlanta with her fiancée, who is in school to become a therapist. “While my debt isn’t as bad as I know some people’s is, it’s enough that it’s hard to chip away at it on what little money I make.”
Finding a substantial job that pays enough without a bachelor’s degree proved difficult. So, Lillie began juggling multiple jobs in 2020 to make ends meet. Throughout the early days of the pandemic, she says she mostly taught online and edited videos of students for musicals “so the kids could still perform, but in a digital setting.” More recently, she worked at Barnes & Noble, picked up shifts at an escape room, gave private voice lessons, and nabbed whatever contract work she could get teaching theater to kids in schools, after-school programs, and other organizations.
Hustling to work that many jobs was bad for her mental health and social life, she says, but it afforded her roughly $2,500 a month—“usually what I need for expenses.”
Lillie is one of the eight million working Americans, or 5%, working multiple jobs, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this is around the same share as those in 2019, side gigs might be twice as common as the jobs data suggests: Nearly 10% of workers have a main job and at least one other side gig, per WFH research. And more Americans report having a side hustle than those who did in 2020. As inflation surged to a 40-year high and a housing crisis sent Americans into a tizzy, balancing side gigs to covers costs is a position that more and more Americans have found themselves in.
About 41% of Americans with side hustles say they need the additional cash to cover everyday expenses, according to a 2022 Bankrate survey. That’s up from the 31% of U.S. workers…