Seems like my main job is watching time. What day is it? What hour?
The clock owns me.
If I peel it back and think about how I got here — juggling multiple jobs to bring in streams of income to help me stay afloat — it would come down to this: I wanted to be more. And still do.
I did not stay in one job for all of my life. Reporting. Editing lawyers. Retail. Freelance writing. Teaching. Odd jobs. Many lives.
I could come up with a multitude of reasons why I left jobs, some of which I held for five or 10 years. Mostly, it was to keep things interesting for myself.
Maybe you know that desire.
What I never believed when I left teaching five years ago, at 55 — perhaps naively — was that the world would see me as used up.
This is where that learning curve took me: Five nights a week I work as a grocery store clerk. I come in as close to 40 hours a week as possible. Overtime — even when the store needs us to finish something — is not an option. On my sixth day, I am a point person at a nearby liquor store, helping customers with wine and answering questions. I regularly write a column for the Globe. I am writing a book proposal, which will hopefully yield income. Sometimes I coach writing. I sell books and DVDs that I no longer want. I considered a roommate. All totaled, I am not circling $50,000.
And I am not alone.
In 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics survey of household annual averages for multiple jobholders, I was one of at least 1.76 million women estimated to have both a primary full-time job and a secondary job that is part-time.
Those numbers don’t reflect what happened due to COVID-19′s impact on the job market and job losses.
We can see our generational debt — and its likely causes — in various credit reports. Yay me: I’m a statistic.
And then there are life’s larger shifts — death, divorce, downsizing, a desire to do something different — that can change who we are and how we live.
“I think it stinks that it seems like the norm, people having to work more than one job even after creating a career for themselves. It’s exhausting,” said Emily, 46, a full-time high school visual arts teacher, and one of my colleagues in the grocery store. She has been teaching for 14 years. Before that, she was a mental health counselor.
“I definitely know other people who have other jobs outside of what they are doing and a lot of them are teachers for sure” — especially when you’re not in a dual-income family, said Emily, who is single.
To supplement her income, Emily started working at the grocery store near the end of the 2021 school year, in addition to having a freelance photography business and bartending gigs, which could yield $400-$500 on a good night before drying up during COVID. She has also coached school sports or baby-sat.
“I have to supplement somehow. It’s not necessarily that I don’t make enough money,” she said, explaining that her debt grew out of student and financial loans that she needed while attending an intensive one-year graduate program. During that time, she couldn’t have a job. Still, she needed to pay rent and bills.
For Tracy, 56, her finances changed following her divorce.
“Basically, I’ve been doing it on my own for 20 years,” said Tracy, another grocery store colleague who juggles full- and part-time work: five nights at the store, following her full-time job as a circulation coordinator at a private university library.
She had always worked part-time when the kids were young. House manager for a wealthy family. Lunch aide at school. Admin work for a dance studio, which she did for 16 years. Bartering her time so her three daughters could take dance classes or participate in after-school activities.
The money that once paid for family vacations before the divorce later became the money that helped pay the bills. She also worked part-time at the library until a full-time position became available.
In 2014, it did. For a few years, she had one job — until her alimony agreement got changed in 2019.
“I guess I live in the middle class without any extras,” Tracy said. “I have a house. I get by with bills. I put food on the table for my family.” Tracy’s now-young-adult daughters live at home with her. They all share one car.
Still, she said, “Your heart sinks at the beginning of every month. You try to stay positive. I get down sometimes. This isn’t where I pictured myself.”
Seems true for many of us, including my other co-workers ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. It feels like none of us are winning for trying.
Emily feels like she’ll have student loan debt for the rest of her life. I feel this way about my home equity line, which for years had a zero balance. It became my safety net. Rebuilt chimney and flashing. Car repairs. House repairs. Property taxes.
The list of emergencies and essentials can be endless for me, my co-workers, and probably for many of you who once might have thought of yourself as middle class.
I left teaching the summer after my mother died. For 10 years, I stayed in that job where I tracked the calendar for the next day off. Afterward for two years, I applied for full-time positions, from publishing to reception work. Now, I am here.
Financially, maybe it appears a mistake to have left the security of one job that would mainly pay for a modest life. But look around: It seems most of the country is just scraping by or in real financial straits — no matter the job or how hard you work.
None of us pictured this. There’s your plan. And then there’s what happens.
Mary Ann D’Urso’s column appears regularly in the Globe. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.