Home » Skipping meals and working 80-hour weeks: Australians are holding down multiple jobs to ease cost-of-living pressures

Skipping meals and working 80-hour weeks: Australians are holding down multiple jobs to ease cost-of-living pressures

Beautician Elice McPhie remembers the moment it hit her that her skincare business had taken a nosedive.

“I had a full week of work around Easter and then a whole lot of my clients called to reschedule,” she said.

“I thought, ‘that’s weird, it’s school holidays and they are all mums’.

“But then I realised that this was a financial issue. They weren’t cancelling [the appointments], they were spacing them out as long as they could.”

Ms McPhie said her full book of appointments shrivelled by 40 per cent.

She is one of more than 970,000 Australians who now work multiple jobs, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Financial counsellors say there is also an unprecedented number of people working more than one job who are under genuine financial strain.

Reduced trade was the catalyst for Ms McPhie taking on additional work as well as the strain of mortgage repayments which had almost doubled in the past year.

“It’s not like I could cut back on my business or tighten it up, I don’t have a huge amount of overheads,” Ms McPhee said. 

Instead, she’s expanded to an online store selling lifestyle products to help pay her way.

“I’m probably not nailing it at the moment,” she said.

“I’m doing all my own socials, branding, it’s crazy for me to reach out to another company to do that.

“I also have to buy products to sell, it is pretty stressful.

“We are reining in what we’re spending and being really conscious of it too.”

Skipping meals despite working two jobs

Financial counselling director at the Consumer Action Law Centre in Melbourne, Claire Tacon, said there had been a 25 per cent rise in people calling for assistance in the past year.

“There are an unprecedented number of people contacting us who are working, and often working multiple jobs,” she said.

“I’ve never seen the financial counselling sector at such capacity.”

Ms Tacon said there had been a major shift in the working status of people who needed genuine financial help with two jobs not sustaining them for life’s essentials.

She said counsellors often heard harrowing personal stories of financial distress.

“Someone rang us this morning who was working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet.

“They also talk about skipping meals.

“More people are talking about having to prioritise shelter over food or other essentials.”

In December 2023, the rate of multiple job-holding was higher for women (7.5 per cent) compared with men (6 per cent), according to the ABS.

Sydney-based freelance videographer Nicholas Battushig works multiple jobs, including as a technician at a university.

But his monthly income has halved this year.

Nicholas Battushig says he is working more but earning less. (Supplied)

He said businesses were trimming costs and he had fewer higher paying clients.

“It is definitely nerve-wracking and it is taking an emotional and physical toll as well,” Mr Battushig said.

“Last year, I was working roughly 50 hours a week including my university work.”

The 26-year-old creative has now taken on two extra jobs through interstate agencies to help make ends meet.

“This year, on average, I’m working 70 to 80 hours [per week],” he said.

“At least I know that the bills are being paid through working with these agencies, even though I am technically taking a pay cut.”

Upward spike in full-time workers getting extra work 

Household data collected through a national longitudinal study found a majority of women working in the arts or service industries, and who are young, are the most likely group to work more than one job.

University of Melbourne Professor Roger Wilkins, leads the HILDA survey which tracks 17,000 Australians.

Woman holding calculator surrounded by documents and keyboard on desk.

Research shows women and workers aged 20 to 24 are more likely to have multiple jobs. (Supplied: Canva)

He said the survey results followed a similar trajectory to the data collected from the ABS.

“Around 8 per cent of employed people have more than one job,” he said.

“We did see a spike upward in 2021 and it has continued to be elevated in 2022.”

Professor Wilkins said there were conventionally two main categories of multiple job-holders: those who had full-time work in one job and took on a second role to supplement their income.

The other category were workers who took on multiple part-time jobs, essentially to get a desired number of work hours.

“What we’ve seen is strong [workforce] demand conditions over the past couple of years. There’s been more of a shift to the first group, more full-time employees getting a second-part time job,” he said.

“The most common industries are in arts and recreation services, followed by healthcare, social assistance, education and training.”

Think tank calls for tax rethink

The McKell Institute wants changes made to the way multiple job-holders are taxed so workers can access their own money more quickly.

The progressive think tank’s chief executive Ed Cavanough said it was a practical way to help those in need.

“We know that the majority of people that are working multiple jobs are doing so on lower incomes,” he said.

Workers pay the same amount of Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) tax depending on how much they earn, but when spreading their income over several jobs, they pay a higher tax rate on the additional job.

Man with beard in a navy suit smiles.

Ed Cavanough says tweaking how PAYG tax returns are delivered could help people with multiple low-income jobs. (Supplied: McKell Institute)

“If you have one part-time job and then you are working in a cafe doing a few extra hours it’s likely that second job you’re going to be taxed at a higher rate than your first job,” he said.

“What that means is there’s several hundred dollars owing to you in a tax return that you’re not likely to see for another six months at least.

“We think there’s an opportunity here to simply tweak the way that Pay-As-You-Go tax returns are delivered and to provide an additional option for multiple job earners who are earning lower incomes who want to receive that tax return sooner.”

For workers like Ms McPhie, the tax tweaks wouldn’t help her weekly bank balance, but it could help her clientele.

“Everyone is feeling the pinch,” she said.

“If anyone can get hands on extra cash at the moment, it helps everyone.”