In addition to contract work, Muller also took a part-time hosting job at a local sports bar a few nights a week. According to census research, roughly 16.8% of workers in the health care industry and social assistance field, like Muller, have more than one job. On their longest workdays, Muller wakes up around 6 a.m. to arrive at their day job by 8 a.m., eats a quick sandwich or drive-thru meal in the car on the way to their second job, and then might not get home until after 10 p.m.
As with many food service jobs during the pandemic, Muller has had the extra task of managing the sometimes unpredictable customer responses to updated COVID-19 protocols, restrictions, and requirements. As the host, they have the added responsibility of managing the restaurant’s COVID-19 indoor capacity.
“I would easily spend 25-50% of my night explaining to angry people that, yes, I understand that their friends are sitting right there with many empty chairs at their table,” they recall. “However, their friends are a number of the 50 total people that we can seat inside, [and] I cannot let them go sit down or the whole restaurant is going to get shut down.”
Near the end of 2020, Muller’s mother-in-law passed away. Because they were working so much, they weren’t able to spend the time they wanted supporting their partner through the loss. “I wanted to be home with my grieving wife. And in order to not be homeless, I could not do that,” says Muller. “In order to not get our car repossessed by the credit union, I could not do that.”
The unexpected financial urgency brought on by the pandemic wasn’t quite as severe in countries where the government offered large, regular payments to workers who had been furloughed by employers. In the United Kingdom, for example, a furlough scheme that kicked off in March 2020 paid furloughed workers up to 80% of their previous wages to keep the country’s workforce financially afloat.
“It’s pretty standard if you weren’t able to continue work. I was working in a restaurant and, obviously, they were closed,” says Ellen Bettie, a 21-year-old part-time waitress and student at the University of Glasgow. “They just paid you — weekly or monthly, depending on when you usually get paid — 80% of your wages. I did have some trouble to begin with because it took awhile for each company to get the funds and then to pay you. But I think the scheme was pretty well-done overall.”
Bettie used her newfound free time to lean into an old hobby: She borrowed a sewing machine and casually started selling a few hand-sewn items, like scrunchies, tote bags, tops, and skirts, to supplement her income. Over time, as she grew more comfortable with how to manage orders and market herself, she became more serious about building up her online presence on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Depop.
Bettie says that she “did apply to a few jobs but not loads, really,” and, aside from an inconvenient housing expense mix-up at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, found her financial responsibility fairly manageable during the pandemic. Now that she’s back at the University of Glasgow, she limits her sewing to evenings and weekends, but she’s planning to keep up the hobby for as long as it interests her.
“I’m still doing it just because I’ve enjoyed it so much,” says Bettie. “I think in the future, if I could go back to my job at the restaurant, I might turn it down a bit on the side hustle. But because I’m enjoying it so much, I think I’m going to carry on.”