When I was in graduate school, I was miserable a lot of the time and so I started sewing. Pretty soon I started sewing for friends, too, and then I started selling what I sewed. I learned how to code and built a website. I had a nice little online shop. It helped me have a sense of starting and finishing things, which was not a feeling I had about my dissertation.
I’ve been revising that dissertation ever since. For 11 years, with breaks–some deliberate, some unintentional. It took me five years to find an angle on the original research that was new and compelling for the field–and I won an award for the article that came out of it. Since then I’ve been working on it, off and on, in fits in spurts.
Good weekend, readers! Today I’m going to talk about side gigs. If you read financial blogs and forums at all, you’ve seen this phrase. The gist of discussion tends to go like this: lower your expenses as you will in order to better your savings rate (or whatever), but at some point you can’t (or won’t) lower any more. At that point, assuming you want a better savings rate or more money for your ferret farm or whatever it is you’re up to, you need to increase your income. Get a side gig–a second job, generally less intensive than the first. But how we frame the concept of side gigs carries class and sex assumptions that need unpacking.
The Gig Economy
In America, we increasingly have a “gig economy” wherein people freelance for work. This has occurred for a couple of reasons. One, because of lack of choice, and two, because the nature of the work people want to do can necessitate that kind of self-employment. (Plug for universal health care to make self-employment and gig living easier goes here–it would be infinitely easier to be working gig-style or as an entrepreneur if you didn’t have to worry about medical expenses, dammit). The phrase “side gig” can be related to this economic situation. It is not necessarily reflective of broader, more long-lasting trends in America’s employment and economics scene, however. Greater complexities are missing, and their absence is troubling.
One piece that is missing in many discussions of side gigs is that the concept itself assume a middle-class status. It assumes you have a primary gig, the one that pays you reasonably well and likely gives you health benefits, maybe a retirement plan of some kind, paid sick days and the like. It negates the fact that for many people, two jobs was a way of life, with poverty the consequence of missing either. Plenty of people for decades have worked two jobs to make ends meet; neither of those jobs would be side gigs, neither secondary to the other. They’re necessities.
This assumption of middle class status-shades a lot of finance blog writing, including mine, but I want to own it. I know I’m often making that assumption. I fully understand there’s a difference between side gig for added savings and a person working two jobs to put food on the table, and that the latter are often trapped in jobs that don’t come with benefits or decent hours. America loves to point fingers at those people, laying responsibility for their situations to poor choices when the reality is nearly always far more complicated. In any case, while I get why we talk about side gigs (I have a badass one, myself), we need to at least be cognizant that two gigs is the norm for a lot of folks.
Another issue with the way we conceptualize side gigs is sex. Here are my thoughts, generally malformed and in need of work:
Women chronically earn less than men. The wage gap persists. If we talk about pursuing side gigs as a way of rounding out the primary gig, are we abandoning to some extent the real problem–that primary gigs don’t often pay enough, particularly for women? That there are penalties for time to raise kids, but that putting them in day care can cost the mother’s near-entire salary (which is one reason why moms tend to stay home more than dads–it’s the patriarchy reinforcing financial traditions that then reinforces social ones).
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but there’s something there I can’t yet put my finger on.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that there is a lot of baggage with the concept of the side gig. It comes with assumptions about class, and I think what I’m leaning towards is that it comes with assumptions of (masculine) gender. What are your thoughts? Should we modify our conversations about side gigs, and if so, how? What are our assumptions and our own baggage in these conversations?