In Minnesota and nation, moonlighting is recession-proof

Ask Minnesotans these days why they work multiple jobs and you’ll hear answers from fun money to desperate need.

Moonlighting has long been a big deal in the Upper Midwest. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that but also offer a deeper look at the role it plays in good economies and bad.

Moonlighting appears to be recession-proof.

Here’s a BLS chart showing multiple job holders by state. (Click on the chart for a larger view.)

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Minnesota is number four, with moonlighters representing 9 percent of total state employment last year. South Dakota (10.3%), North Dakota (9.8%) and Nebraska (9.5%) were the top states.

The second chart shows moonlighting has stayed at a pretty consistent pace in good economies and bad (Click for a larger view).

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“Multiple job holding in the Upper Great Plains has been very common, even given different economic circumstances,” says Richard Rathge, director of the North Dakota State Data Center who’s studied the issue.

Some of that has to do with agriculture where folks are working several jobs because of seasonality. In addition, in rural areas wages are often low so some folks are picking up extra jobs to maintain a desired standard of living.

When you consider that North Dakota’s unemployment rate fluctuates very little relative to the nation, that suggests (moonlighting) is more due to structural issues (low wages, seasonal work) rather than shifts in the economy.

We asked Dave Senf, labor market analyst with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to share some thoughts on the BLS report. He’s written before on the topic and gave us the heads-up on the new BLS data.

He thinks the averages may be underestimating the number of Minnesota’s multiple job holders.

If you take the 8.8 percent and 9 percent (Minnesota moonlighting) rates which are annual rates and apply it to total annual employment … multiple jobholders on an annual average were 244,622 and 245,852.

The annual estimate (244,622 and 245,852) gives the lowest estimate of workers who some time during the year had more than one job… Four persons each who hold a full-time job all year but who hold a second job for only one quarter each year would be counted up as one multiple jobholder on an annual average basis.

So a lot more than 244,622 workers probably held more than one job sometime during 2008.

Earlier this year, we checked in with Minnesotans in MPR’s Public Insight Network about the pros and cons of working two or more jobs. Click on the icons below to read what they told us.

One other surprising nugget: The BLS report. indicates moonlighting increases with education: “Among workers age 25 and older, those with less than a high school diploma had a low multiple jobholding rate (2.4 percent). The rate was much higher (7.0 percent) for workers with an advanced degree…”

Workers whose main job was in education, public administration or health services were the most likely to be moonlighting. Makes sense that teachers, firefighters and others with flexible schedules would be most likely to pick up second jobs.

That doesn’t mean they want to, of course. BLS noted that in 2004, the last time the question was asked, only 18 percent said they took second jobs for enjoyment. The majority wanted extra money or needed to pay down debt.

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Leah Wilkes of Minneapolis moonlights as a cafe server 10 to15 hours a week to supplement her full time University of Minnesota job. She does it to pay bills and for a little fun money and said she likes working more than one job.

“With the serving, it’s always a way to have cash in pocket and also, it keeps my body moving,” she told us in March. I have been working in bars and restaurants for 20 years and sitting at a desk is difficult. I get my benefits from my job at the U, so I am in a better position than many in the service industry who don’t have health or dental insurance.”

On the downside, she added: “I’m tired.”

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