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01.12.09

The New American Hustler

An exclusive Daily Beast poll finds that as the recession worsens, more high-income workers are freelancing their way to wealth through multiple part-time gigs, changing the way we define a successful career.

Welcome to the Age of the Hustler. The old picture of a hustler is a wizened guy, standing on a street corner selling some assortment of unsavory goods. Today’s hustler looks much swankier: With the economy in free fall, the American workplace is changing and now the top tiers are hustling.

Click here to see read the results of our poll.

In previous economic crises, the pain was felt first by the bottom income brackets. This crisis is different—the middle and upper classes are now the ones hustling.

A majority of Americans remain at work in the traditional “full-time” 40-hour week. But fully one-third of Americans in our survey are now working either freelance or two jobs, with nearly one in two (45%) taking on these additional positions in the last six months. And, by and large, these new alternative workers are not low-income—they are college-educated Americans who earn more than $75,000 a year.

There are two kinds of new American hustlers:

At the lower end of the salary spectrum, lower- and middle-class Americans are being stretched in ways they didn’t seek. Americans with incomes below $40,000 per year are more likely to hold multiple part-time positions, and the reason why they hold second jobs tends to be a critical financial situation: They’re behind on bills and need extra income (43%).

At the top end, those with higher incomes and a college education are more likely to work freelance or multiple jobs as a way of expanding their scope. This upper-class population often has both a full-time job in addition to one or more part-time jobs, often freelancing. The top motivation for taking on additional work? A second job was actually a hobby that turned into a money-making operation (48%). Not surprisingly, this group is also more likely to feel stretched by their responsibilities.

This shift towards freelance and multiple jobs is consistent with U.S. Census trends over the past few years but is being exacerbated by the economic crisis. Across demographics, a majority (74%) of the American workforce says they have personally felt some impact from the crisis. Among the upper class or college educated, the impacts felt are mostly the lack of a pay raise (40%) or the acquisition of more responsibilities at work without more compensation (35%). Given that, of course those Americans are seeking to turn hobbies into paying gigs.

In previous economic crises, the pain was felt first by the bottom income brackets. This crisis is different—the middle and upper classes are now the ones hustling. Upper-class Americans are more likely to want multiple projects (60%), but this probably isn’t what they had in mind. These Americans are now being asked to do more for the same or less pay, to work more outside of normal hours—and are more likely to see layoffs around them. The old hustler still exists, but he’s now been joined by a new group of wealthier Americans who never expected to find themselves on the street corner.

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