ANDERSON – When he joined the Anderson Fire Department in 1997, Jim Denny knew he would continue with the job he already had.

“I’ve been mowing since I was 18, so I knew when I was going to become a fireman that I was going to be mowing on the side,” he said.

Two years later, he started his own lawn care service, a venture that he’s maintained for more than two decades.

During that time, Denny has been part of an ever-growing demographic that is gaining prominence in the wake of the pandemic.

New data recently rolled out by the U.S. Census Bureau sheds new light on the phenomenon of multiple jobholding in the country. Researchers at the bureau found that 7.8% of all people in the U.S. hold at least two jobs, a number that has been trending upward for more than 20 years. But as the economy emerges unevenly from the throes of its pandemic malaise, those holding more than one job may bear outsized importance when it comes to gauging the vitality of the recovery.

“The higher percentage of people we have in our population that are working, the better off we all are together,” said Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department. “It enables us to thrive as a community.”

The new report, drawn from the bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD), collects data differently from its primary source, the Community Population Survey, and does not include government workers or independent contractors. But the report’s authors maintain that the data gives them new insights into questions like whether men or women are more likely to work multiple jobs, and how much money people earn from multiple jobs.

“These questions are of great interest to economists and policymakers as they seek to understand how individuals string together multiple jobs in order to make ends meet,” the authors, Keith Bailey and James Spletzer, wrote.

Frequently, those necessities include child care costs, which Marc Slayton, Anderson’s deputy director of economic development, believes is a key reason many local residents hold at least two jobs.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of surviving,” Slayton said. “They’re noteworthy because they are fulfilling the employment needs of employers, and with two jobs, they’re able to contribute back into the economy to a greater degree.”

While noting that a distinction should be made as to whether a second job is full-time or part-time, Winkler said that locally, multiple jobholding often becomes necessary for workers to earn a living wage, which depending on family size can range from just under $14 an hour to more than $44 an hour.

“That’s the other part of this conversation,” Winkler said. “What does somebody have to have in order to be able to make ends meet? There probably aren’t a lot of people working two jobs because they want to; they’re working two jobs because they have to.”

Locally, although no official data exists, anecdotal evidence suggests that second jobs held by individuals in Madison County tend to be at restaurants and retailers.

“A lot of times the food service and retail sectors, you’ll see people picking up extra hours to get extra income for school or what have you,” said Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development.

For Denny, the extra money from his lawn care business has served a variety of purposes over the years. Currently, it’s providing a much-needed cushion while his wife attends nursing school.

“As a fireman, you don’t make a bunch of money when your insurance comes out and your pension, so I think most of us firemen have side jobs,” he said. “It does help with going on vacations. It gives me some financial stability and some play money, having two jobs. Why would you want to work two jobs and not have some play money, right?”

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