14 Hours of Work, 4 Hours of Sleep: Surviving on Two Jobs a Day

This is a typical workday for Amy Collazo, a 42-year-old Brooklyn mom:

She gets up at 5:30 a.m. to make breakfast for her two teenage sons so they can get to school by 7 a.m. Her day job, as a personal assistant to medical patients, starts at 8 a.m. and lasts until 3 p.m. She picks up her sons from school at 4 p.m. and prepares dinner for them at home. Then she puts on a gray baseball cap and a dark blue apron for her second job at a McDonald’s, where, until midnight, she clears food crumbs off tables and scrapes ketchup packets off the floor.

“I set my working schedule around my family,” she said. “At the end of the day, I am responsible for work, but I am also responsible for my home.”

On an average workday, 14 hours lapse between breakfast and her next meal. “I am too busy to feel hungry,” she said. “But I drink water all day. That can fill you up.”

Between her two jobs, Collazo clears about $4,000 a month after taxes — barely enough to get by, especially in New York City, where her rent runs $1,200 a month. She can’t save much after paying her bills. “The city is so expensive,” she said, “especially when you have kids to feed.”

Over the past three years, the U.S. has experienced the kind of hyperinflation that it hadn’t seen for decades. Meanwhile, the city’s minimum wage hasn’t changed in the past three years. The Living Wage Calculator shows that someone like Collazo, who lives in Brooklyn with a partner and two children, would need to make $30.33 an hour to reach the living wage standard if both adults were working. The figure rises to $46.55 with only one person employed.

Collazo is one of a growing number of Americans who hold down more than one job. More than 8.1 million people were working at multiple jobs in the U.S. in September, the highest number recorded since the pandemic hit in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This group represents 5 percent of the employed population.

Nationally, 447,000 people like Collazo hold down two jobs full-time. The number of people in this group also reached its highest in the last decade in September, according to the Bureau.

September recorded the highest number of multiple jobholders since the pandemic. Source: BLS

September recorded the highest number of multiple jobholders since the pandemic. Source: BLS

Women tend more often than men to have multiple jobs. Around 5.5 percent of female employees were multi-job holders in September, compared to 4.6 percent of men, according to the Bureau.

Michelle Holder, an economics professor at John Jay College in New York City, said many women are likely in this situation because they’re “female heads of households who may or may not receive assistance from a father or a partner.” So they wind up “raising a family on her own income.”

That fits Collazo. Her boyfriend — the boys’ father and a master barber — injured his arm two months ago when his dog suddenly pulled the leash. Collazo says that he used to make around $5,000 a month but is recuperating at home and isn’t sure when he’ll go back to work. This makes her the family’s sole source of income for now.

“I can’t complain,” she said. “In a serious relationship, two people should help each other. It’s like 50–50.”

Collazo, a native New Yorker, started working at the McDonald’s on Myrtle Avenue, Queens, in July 2022. That job pays $15 an hour, the city’s minimum wage.

Eight months ago, as inflation wracked her budget, she started her personal assistant job because she needed more money for “both living and saving.”

In that role, she spends about 30 hours a week performing in-home care — from sorting medicines to ensuring that patients with limited mobility can walk safely.

It’s not an easy job. Some of her clients suffer from mental illness and can be “a little paranoid,” she said. “But I’ve learned not to take it personally.” This job pays $21.75 per hour, which Collazo thinks is “quite okay.”

At McDonald’s, she works six days a week — scrubbing tables, emptying trash cans and cleaning restrooms. After finishing these tasks, she often heads to the kitchen to help her coworkers make burgers and assemble meals. She is “constantly moving,” she says. “If the owner catches you slacking off, you’re in trouble.”

Her sons, 14 and 18, are often on her mind. During breaks, she may attend a school Zoom meeting for parents. And when she gets home, “I’m so exhausted that I just want to stay alone. But my kids are still calling ‘mom, mom, mom.’”

No matter how tired she is, she’ll sometimes play PUBG, a video game, with her older son, though that means she might sleep less than five hours.

She’s no gamer. “But my son thought he could connect with me that way,” she said. “I do whatever works for him.”

Collazo has considered leaving the city, but she hasn’t decided where to go.

“It is too congested,” she said. “After you finish your work, you still need to pay attention to your surroundings on your way back home. The city is way too much for me.”

Collazo has considered leaving McDonald’s because it is “a dead-end job” and because working two jobs leaves her “exhausted, both mentally and physically.” But to do that, she would need more shifts as a personal assistant.

She used to love going out to movies or hanging out with her friends, but she seldom does those things now. And when she gets a free day, she doesn’t relax. On a recent Monday, she took her son to an orthodontist appointment, bought household supplies and did laundry. “Even on my days off,” she said, “I still have a lot to do.”

About the author(s)

Zirui Yang, who is from mainland China and had his undergraduate study in Hong Kong, is now a reporting fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.