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Is the rise in side hustles part of the new American dream?

Krys Merryman //August 4, 2023//

Is the rise in side hustles part of the new American dream?

Krys Merryman //August 4, 2023//

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Side gigs increased in the past couple of years, especially post-COVID, an increase of 40%, 2022 reports show.

Analysts say the trend could have something to do with people working more flexible hours — creating opportunities for people to pursue and monetize personal hobbies.

For others, their reason may be correlated with the rising cost of living just that has put more financial pressure on many.

A study by SHRM showed the number of employees reporting side gigs in May 2022 was 40%, a 34% increase from December 2020.

According to a Zapier study:

  • More than one-third of Americans have a side hustle
  • At least 50% of millennials have a side hustle
  • The average side hustle earns an extra $12,689 per year
  • Most side hustlers devote 5 to 20 hours a week to the extra gig
  • The biggest motivators for side hustlers are gaining more personal freedom and earning extra income

Zapier’s study also revealed that men are slightly more likely to participate in the side hustle than women, at 44%, compared to 37%.

A recent ranking revealed which states find workers most in need of a second job in order to supplement their income.

The research, conducted by tech experts Hostinger, compared each state’s average salary to the current living wage to determine where people have the least financial flexibility after covering necessary expenses — including health care, housing and groceries.

South Carolina ranked second. With the living wage at $36,338, the average salary in the state is $44,380, leaving a residual of $8,042. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in Greenville is around $60,000, while studies show a resident must make at least $45,000 to keep up with the cost of living.

Should employers be worried?

Although some employers are concerned that the distraction of a side job may affect performance of the main one, some studies suggest that side hustles can empower an employee and build fresh routines and skills, which could enhance performance at their primary job.

Greenville-based staffing agency Find Great People COO Betsy Anthony said they have seen the growth in side hustles from their personal experiences with employees and employers.

“People leave the job market to start a small company or to join a business, like direct marketing, and we are also seeing more people having side jobs while still working in their full-time jobs,” said Anthony. “I do think the job market is really tight right now. Finding candidates is a big challenge, and employers are having to get creative and loosen up on expectations of who they hire. While it might be unattractive to some employers for someone who might have a side business with an entrepreneurial mindset, as an employer being open to those things is also important for hiring and retaining talent.”

‘The new American dream’

Nikki Colwell said she never expected her side gig running her own travel agency would take off the way it has.  (Photo/Provided)Upstate resident Nikki Colwell is currently a full-time virtual teacher who has a side gig as owner of a home-based travel agency. She works for her business outside of school hours, working late depending on how busy her schedule is with clients and bookings, she said.

Colwell’s school’s administration and coworkers are all aware of her side business, as it is not uncommon for teachers to have them, she said, and a few have even utilized her services to help book trips.

What started as a hobby led to a business she wasn’t expecting to take off.

“For teachers, we realized we had spare time outside of our working hours,” said Colwell. “I know personally I needed the extra income, too. Having a side gig gives us something to do during the summer and breaks and gives me the extra income I need. Working from home through COVID, and after, allowed people the flexibility to figure out their passions whereas before you didn’t have the flexibility to.”

Colwell also said the cost of living has been higher while salaries remained stagnant, so for her it has been financially beneficial to work full-time while also finding the time to work her side gig.

Upstate resident Abby Marasigan was recently transitioning from being a Drum Creative graphic designer to a full-time lead designer at Infinity Marketing while also maintaining her status as a contract photographer.

Abby Marasigan said her employer recognizes that her side hustle strengthens her value at her main job. (Photo/Provided)Marasigan’s first wedding photography shoot was in 2018. She was interested in photography since her first sessions of senior photography in high school but she didn’t make it a profitable business until 2018, she said.

“For me personally, photography started as a hobby,” she said. “I love to take pictures and travel and capture everyday memories. It was never about money and earning a profit but rather a passion for me. Photography allows me to make connections with people and capture memories. My full-time job is creative on its own, so I never thought I needed a side hustle for the creativity aspect of it.”

Marasigan said not only have her employers been supportive and flexible with her work schedules, but they have also come to appreciate the additional skills her side hustle brings to her full-time job.

“I practice my photography skills outside of work and am able to bring that skill, benefiting them as well,” she added. “They have been intrigued in my photography ability, while offering design and customer relations skills as well. My side hustle doesn’t create a conflict of interest but complements each other.”

One reason you have a generation coming out of school with somewhat “romantic idea” of having your own business, having your own hours, and doing something you’re passionate about, is a lot of people during they pandemic realized they were working jobs they didn’t love, said Upstate resident Micah Hamilton.

Micah Hamilton turned his side gig into a a business, but he says ownership may not be what budding entrepreneurs are expecting. (Photo/Provided)“Working from home was difficult for a lot of people,” he said. “After COVID, the market inflation has been financially difficult, and people are pulling in hours elsewhere to get extra income. The first place they look is to jobs they really enjoy.”

Hamilton eventually made his side hustle his full-time job as a piano technician.

“The rise in it is the new American dream that I can work for myself, a millennial thing, rather,” he said. “Every millennial’s dream seems to be working for themselves, to make more money. Side hustles is an idea that drives people to do that, but romantic ideas can also be misguided, and you realize you don’t get to make as many decisions as you think you do. The market dictates what you can be paid for what you do, and in reality, you can only charge what people are willing to pay for your services. And your hours vary depending on the service industry.”

In the first few years, if you’re working full-time jobs and running a side hustle, people realize you’re actually putting in a lot of overtime, said Hamilton.

“You have to be willing to sacrifice and have the drive it takes to make your business a success,” he said. “It’s a popular concept but any new business a majority of the time fails because people don’t know what it takes to make it successful. We have to alter how we think about what we do. The question you have to ask yourself is why a side gig is better than going off and getting one job that can offer you all the things you need.”

He said working toward the benefits of making more money, making your own hours, not working overtime, and having the opportunity to take vacations is good but there must be more to your motivation than that, because it could be false hope — at least at first.

“I absolutely love working for myself but have grown to realize my presumptions were off when it comes to running a business,” said Hamilton. “I’ve learned a lot to make my business more efficient, but it takes a while before you’re in a rhythm that allows you to enjoy what you’re doing while keeping that romantic view.”