April 2015

Multiple jobholding over the past two decades

Multiple jobholding declined in the United States during the past two decades. Data from the Current Population Survey show that the trend reflects a lower propensity to moonlight among single jobholders. Multiple jobholders, by contrast, did not become more likely to return to single jobholding.

In 2013, 6.8 million workers in the United States held more than one job. Twenty years before, the figure was 7.5 million, although the total number of workers with a job was lower by 15.9 million. The multiple-jobholding rate—the proportion of multiple jobholders among all employed workers—rose from 6.2 percent in 1994 to a high of 6.8 percent during the summer of 1995. It has declined steadily since then and was at 5.0 percent by the end of 2013. Inspection of data from the Current Population Survey (CPS, see accompanying box) reveals that the downward trend holds across various sociodemographic groups of the working-age population (those 16 to 64 years old).

The Current Population Survey: data and definition

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of households administered by the U.S. Census Bureau under the auspices of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPS is the source of U.S. official labor market statistics and is thus a firsthand source of information for the purpose of this article.

Since January 1994, CPS respondents have been asked a series of questions that allows the identification of multiple jobholders. A multiple jobholder is defined as an individual who held more than one job during the reference week of the survey and who usually receives a wage or salary from his or her primary job (i.e., the job at which the individual worked the greatest number of hours during the reference week). Excluded from the definition are individuals who were unpaid family workers on their primary job as well as individuals who were self-employed on their primary job and were either self-employed or unpaid family workers on their second job.

CPS respondents are interviewed for 4 consecutive months, are rotated out of the survey for 8 months, and are then included in the survey again for 4 consecutive months. This approach allows researchers to link (a fraction of) CPS respondents across surveys. In so doing, one can compare the labor market position of an individual in 2 consecutive months and identify transitions into and out of multiple jobholding, as is done later in the text of this article.

This article documents the evolution of multiple jobholding from 1994 to 2013 in the United States, shining a light on workers’ transitions into and out of multiple jobholding. These transitions convey information about the propensity of single jobholders to become multiple jobholders and vice versa, trends that in turn help explain why moonlighting has become less common.

Multiple jobholding is relevant to our understanding of the labor market from a variety of perspectives. At the individual level, moonlighting serves both economic and noneconomic purposes, as earlier studies have shown.1 In May 2004, for instance, most workers who were holding more than one job reported doing so in order to earn extra money (38.1 percent), to meet expenses, or to pay off debt (25.6 percent).2 Meanwhile, a nonnegligible fraction of multiple jobholders (17.6 percent) reported that their primary motivation was the enjoyment they received from their second job. Multiple jobholding is also important from a macroeconomic perspective because moonlighting adds millions of jobs to the economy, as the aforementioned figures show. In 1995, for example, when the multiple-jobholding rate was at its highest level, multiple jobholders worked an average of 13.5 hours per week on their second job, thereby adding about a 100 million hours worked to the economy each week.

Trends in multiple jobholding

Figure 1 shows the evolution of the multiple-jobholding rate in the population of working-age individuals.3 As already mentioned, multiple jobholding has been declining throughout almost the entire period examined. Interestingly, earlier studies based on the May supplements of the CPS reported evidence of a rise in multiple jobholding during the 1980s.4 Therefore, the increase between 1994 and 1995 shown in the figure may well have been the continuation of an earlier trend. During the summer of 1995, however, this trend came to an end, and by 2013 the multiple-jobholding rate was at a decadal low. In figure 1 and in subsequent figures, the recession periods shown are those identified by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Previous research has attempted to correlate moonlighting with the different phases of the business cycle.5 For instance, on the one hand, jobs are seen to be more plentiful during economic expansions, a finding that could result in procyclical multiple-jobholding rates. On the other hand, looser credit constraints during expansions could lead to fewer individuals taking on a second job to meet expenses. Perhaps because of these opposing forces, research on the cyclical behavior of multiple jobholding has not reached definite conclusions. The figures in this article confirm the absence of a clear association between moonlighting and the business cycle.


1 For evidence based on the Current Population Survey, see Jennifer L. Martel, “Reasons for working multiple jobs,” Monthly Labor Review, October 2000, pp. 42–43, For evidence from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, see Christina H. Paxson and Nachum Sicherman, “The dynamics of dual job holding and job mobility,” Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 14, no. 3, 1996, pp. 357–393.

2 See Steven F. Hipple, “Multiple jobholding during the 2000s,” Monthly Labor Review, July 2010, pp. 21–32, especially table 7, p. 30,

3 All time-series displayed in this article are adjusted as follows: first, seasonality is removed with the use of the U.S. Census Bureau’s X13-ARIMA-SEATS program; then, high-frequency variations are smoothed out by calculating the 3-month centered moving average of the time series.

4 See, for example, John F. Stinson, Jr., “Multiple jobholding up sharply in the 1980’s,” Monthly Labor Review, July 1990, pp. 3–10,; and “New data on multiple jobholding available from the CPS,” Monthly Labor Review, March 1997, pp. 3–8,

5 Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes and Jean Kimmel, “Moonlighting over the business cycle,” Economic Inquiry, October 2009, pp. 754–765, provides a discussion of the underlying mechanisms. The authors explain why sample selection into employment (i.e., the fact that individuals in employment at various phases of the business cycle represent a nonrandom sample of the population) is likely to affect the measured cyclicality of multiple-jobholding rates.

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About the Author

Etienne Lalé

Etienne Lalé is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics, University of Bristol, Bristol, England, United Kingdom.

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