A job too far? The problem of the multi-gig professional

The news that Wells Fargo fired employees for "simulating keyboard activity" has struck a nerve among both employers and employees. To bosses, it confirmed long-held suspicions that remote workers were often less committed and less productive than those in the office. To workers, it validated their concerns that employers were using surveillance to monitor them.

This news speaks to a broader trend affecting the US labor force and consumer spending - the rise of professionals holding multiple full-time jobs. Since the pandemic lockdown, there has been a dramatic increase in college-educated, younger professionals juggling multiple jobs. Official data shows at least 4 million people with college degrees now have more than one job, up from 2.4 million before the pandemic. This is likely an underestimate, as some high-paid workers may be reluctant to admit to holding multiple roles.

There is a direct correlation between the spike in college graduates working multiple jobs and the rise of remote work. Prior to COVID-19, less than 5% of US employees worked from home. That shot up to over 60% during lockdowns and has settled around 30% today, slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels. Remote work has made it easier for well-paid professionals to take on additional full-time roles, as the threat of losing one job is less daunting if they have multiple gigs.

While having to report to an office daily would make juggling multiple jobs challenging, remote work has enabled this trend. In fact, new products like the "Mouse Jiggler" have been created to help employees appear active while working on another employer's laptop. While businesses frown on this practice, it has become more feasible for high-paid workers to hold down multiple full-time roles.

The demographic of workers with multiple jobs has shifted as well. Before 1994, just over 30% of those with multiple jobs were college graduates. After the pandemic, that number jumped to 50% and has remained at that level. This suggests the rise in over-employment is concentrated among higher-paid, educated professionals.

However, the friction is growing as more employers demand a return to the office, with companies like IBM, Amazon, Google, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley requiring employees to spend at least 3-5 days per week on-site. This makes it harder for those working multiple jobs to maintain the arrangement, as they will have to choose between employers. 

The impact on employment levels remains to be seen, but the data suggests workers are replacing lost second jobs with new ones rather than reverting to single jobs. This over-employment trend may be contributing to more robust consumer spending, as younger generations like Gen Z and millennials are spending at a 5:1 rate compared to boomers. 

Overall, the tug-of-war between employers and employees over remote work is far from over. For now, the odds appear to favor employers as they push for a return to the office, which could force professionals with multiple jobs to make difficult choices. 

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