Argentina’s growing ‘polyworker’ scene: they already outnumber the unemployed

The percentage of people with more than one job has risen 25% since 2018

From Monday to Thursday, Luciana Balbuena, 36, teaches in four different high schools in La Plata, Buenos Aires province. From Monday to Saturday, she also works as a communications coordinator for a research institute. This is a remote position, but once a week she has to make a two-hour round trip to the institute’s branch in Buenos Aires City.

“Each job accounts for 50% of my income but the teaching position also provides me with social security and allows me to make pension contributions,” Luciana tells the Herald. 

She is not alone — “polyworking” (having multiple jobs instead of a single full-time occupation) is a growing world phenomenon. However, the Argentine case has some peculiarities, aside from the fact that workers seem more prone to speak about their multiple jobs than people in other countries.

A report by consulting firm Ecolatina found that almost 10% of Argentine workers (roughly 2 million people) have more than one job — a trend that has grown by 25% since 2018. This means that polyworking is more pervasive than unemployment, affecting only 7% of the economically active population.

“It is more common to find a person with more than one job than someone who is unemployed,” the report says.

During Alberto Fernández’s administration, the economy experienced employment growth — 45% of the population is currently employed, an unprecedented record-high.

However, this has come at a cost: jobs with poor working conditions and low salaries — due to inflation, workers’ incomes have fallen close to 20% since 2017. Also, since 2018, only one in four news jobs have been created under the “registered salaried employment” category. The other three belong to either the informal or self-employment sector.

Another polyworker, Pedro, 33, who also chose to remain anonymous for fear of potential repercussions, is employed by a union and also works as a video editor. Both are part-time jobs with fixed schedules, but he is only a registered worker in his union job — a fact that even he seems to forget as he sometimes corrects himself after calling his video editor job “a freelance gig.”

According to the report, 60% of polyworkers are women, and almost half of them are under 40. One out of three is in the 30-40 age range. Moreover, 85% of Argentine polyworkers or their spouses are household heads.

“Getting a job is not the problem, but rather keeping it or getting one that pays enough to sustain a certain living standard,” the Ecolatina report says. “The scarcity of these jobs, partly due to the rigidity of the formal labor market, drives the emergence of the ‘additional worker effect’ or the ‘super-worker’ phenomenon, which increases labor market participation without leading to a rise in unemployment.”

The report points to a reasoning commonly held that states that when the market doesn’t adjust quantities (amount of jobs), it adjusts prices (lower salaries). However, they add that families are also cutting back on sources of leisure and enjoyment, since they have to sacrifice increasingly more time outside of work in order to maintain a certain standard of living.

“Not only free time or leisure time, but also time for rest or education; conditioning future possibilities of household members,” they add.

A distinctive aspect of polyworking is that, unlike informality and self-employment, it has a more “democratic” distribution. “Almost half of the people with more than one job are in the three highest deciles of household per capita income, and only one in four is in the three lower deciles,” the report says. 

Polyworking, the report found, is not necessarily associated with the objective of shoring up income to avoid falling below the poverty line. It is also linked to the need to sustain a certain living standard, as it shows a marked growth in higher deciles.

Aníbal, 40, who chose to not give his real name, has four jobs to keep himself and his family “within the middle class.”

Pedro has a similar mindset. “Technically I could live with only the union job, but I’d barely make ends meet, and I don’t want to. I keep the extra jobs to do things I like,” he says.

As an example of what constitutes a middle class standard, he mentioned buying clothes. “Who can buy Nike or Adidas shoes in this country?”

The reasons are not only economical. Luciana said that having two very different jobs causes a “feedback between the worlds I live in.” Aníbal and Pedro say that having multiple part-time or freelance jobs gives them more flexibility or “freedom.” The labor landscape has shifted not only due to the economic crisis — but also because of the pandemic, which sparked a boom in home-office regimes.

When asked if their friends and colleagues are experiencing similar situations, all of the interviewees answered affirmatively, something Pedro sees as something akin to the end of an era.

“It seems that the times where having a registered job used to be a kind of panacea are no more.”


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