Moonlighting — Not Just a Bruce Willis TV Show

One of the shows I liked when I was a kid was Moonlighting, featuring Bruce Willis when he had hair, and the great chemistry he had with Cybill Shepherd. We can forget that album that he released (The Return of Bruno), and especially the fact that I purchased it. But the days when Moonlighting evoked the Blue Moon Detective Agency are long gone, and instead it’s all about the people working second and third jobs.

It used to be that one job was enough. If you worked 40 hours a week, you spent the rest of your time with your family and friends, engaged in your community, and were able to have a balanced life. And if you had to work more than 40 hours, you were either paid handsomely for your level of commitment, or at the very least, expected to be loyal to your employer. But it just doesn’t work like that anymore — more and more people are working extra jobs, not because they want to, but out of necessity. But all that moonlighting has consequences that nobody is really talking about.

A recent news article explores the phenomenon of moonlighting, recognizing that

Moonlighting appears to be back in vogue. But it’s not because people want to expand their job horizons and try new careers. It’s because they need money.

(See article.) According to Department of Labor statistics, the number of people with a full-time job plus a second part-time job increased five percent between 2006 and 2007 alone, which is a considerable jump in one year.

Moonlighting was something that people who wanted to make career changes did, but it was always a little surreptitious. Some employers banned the practice entirely, fearing that their employees would help the competition, miss work more often, or be unable to give their all to their primary employer. And some employees just didn’t tell their employers, fearing that their employers would mind, even if it didn’t technically violate any bans. Rarely did you have a situation where moonlighting was conducted openly, with the employer’s blessing.

But times have changed. Employees often can no longer get by on just one salary, whether it’s because, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich points out, “wages are falling, adjusted for inflation,” or there aren’t enough good jobs that allow people to support themselves and their families. Forget about mobility or career changes — people have to hang onto the jobs they have, in order to survive. And if something bad happens, like sickness or divorce, workers find they will never catch up on one paycheck.

So moonlighting is proliferating, whether employers (or employees, for that matter) like it or not. Employees are out late at night tending bar, and away from their kids doing homework in the early evenings. This also has a trickle-down effect, in that some lower-paying entry-level jobs are now taken by over-qualified people as a second job, which makes it more difficult for teenagers and workers with less education and skill to find jobs. People don’t take vacations, because they can’t get away from both jobs at once, and they can’t afford to anyway. They’re tired, stretched to the max, and on a treadmill they can’t step off.

Wages aren’t going to increase right away, as we have some pretty serious economic problems happening right now in this country. This means that moonlighting is a phenomenon we’re going to have to get used to. Employers are going to have to be realistic about the needs of their employees, and be flexible enough to permit moonlighting. Child care options must expand to include hours outside the standard work day.

While every employee hopes that the need to work a second job won’t last for very long, until we start electing politicians and enacting policies that ensure we have good jobs and a sound economy, significant numbers of moonlighting employees are likely to be around for the long haul.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.