The "Mystery" Of America's Mounting Multiple Jobholders

After a decade of generally positive job market data (even if largely thanks to job growth among lower-wage recipients), one measure has failed to validate this narrative: multiple job holders made up 5.1% of the total employed in August, and that share of the job market has been hovering around 5% since the beginning of the "recovery" in mid-2009.

In fact, the share of multiple job holders has remained the same,  even though unemployment has fallen to 3.7%, the lowest since 1969. This 3.7% figure is also less than half the level in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. Monthly hiring gains are ahead of the pace they set in 2017, averaging over 200,000 in 2018.

However, wage inflation and pay gains have mostly been disappointing and employers have been reluctant to increase hours and job benefits. This is likely the key reason why many workers continue to work more than one job at a time. Ryan Sweet, head of monetary policy research at Moody’s told Bloomberg:

“The labor market is not as equally tight across the country, and the pickup in worker pay hasn’t been strong enough. At the same time, by almost every metric the labor market is really strong, which means there’s a lot more opportunity for people.”

Normally, a decline in the number of multiple jobholders would mean that people are transitioning to regular job positions with normalized schedules and better benefits. But according to Sweet, these multiple job holder numbers are capturing “something more structural”. That's a macroeconomist's way of saying that having two jobs is becoming the new normal.

There are also a litany of indications that the labor market is tightening. Openings for jobs exceeded the number of unemployed by the most on record in July of this year. Part-timers who would prefer a full-time position have fallen to a post recession low of 4.4 million. Those holding multiple jobs felt to 7.9 million people in August after a spike over 8 million in July, although it is that particular number that has failed to shrink demonstrably in the past decade.

Bloomberg tells the story of Komi Assogba, who took on a second job to support his family after moving to the United States from France. The 58 year old, a former chemistry teacher, works as both a barista for Starbucks and a bellhop at the Arlington, Virginia Crowne Plaza Hotel. He started working two jobs nearly a decade ago while his kids were growing up.

“I was looking for an opportunity for my kids. They were growing so fast, and I said, why not make the sacrifice for them?” he stated.

His kids are now grown and pursuing graduate degrees, but he still likes working two jobs. He told Bloomberg that he prefers to stay busy and that he likes the benefits. Starbucks is helping him with tuition, and he's submitting applications for a Masters degree so he can eventually return to teaching chemistry. He plans on taking classes on his only day off during the week, Saturday. 

Still, the prevalence of multiple jobholders in the US remains a bit of a mystery, at least in the face of official data.

Back in early September, after the last jobs report, we posed the question whether the U.S. job market was overheating. The report in early September showed that the Phillips curve is finally coming back to life as average hourly earnings spiked, rising by double the expected 0.2% M/M, and posting a 2.9% increase annually, the highest since the financial crisis.

We also took note of several additional trends that we will continue to watch, such as:

It currently takes 31 days to fill a vacant job, up from 23 days in 2006:

Businesses are very worried about tight labor market:

It's much harder to fill a job today than in 2005-2006:

Small business hiring plans at record highs:

Workers working part-time for economic reasons at pre-crisis levels:

And yet, despite all the favorable trends, many of which confirm that the job market has rarely been stronger - or tighter - the "mystery" of multiple jobholders remains, and all else equal, is the biggest clue why for all the confidence and economic indicators, wage inflation has yet to truly pick up, some ten years after the financial crisis started.