For some, a patchwork of jobs pays the bills

Short-term jobs from Craigslist - a popular site for the underemployed - let Simone Sneed supplement her income. Short-term jobs from Craigslist - a popular site for the underemployed - let Simone Sneed supplement her income. (Tim Roske/Associated Press/File 2009)
Associated Press / March 27, 2009
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NEW YORK - Simone Sneed has been a brand ambassador for a phone company, a backup singer in a local theater, a freelance grant writer, and a psychic in a scavenger hunt - all for a day.

Sneed found those jobs and many others in Craigslist's Gigs section, where she finds work for a few hours or a day to earn extra cash. Sneed almost posed for an artist who wanted to paint her as a mythical creature that was half woman, half lion, but had to draw the line somewhere.

"My dad is an artist, and he said it sounded a little sketchy," she said.

At a time when many have trouble finding one job, some intrepid job-seekers like Sneed are creating a patchwork of many, all short-term gigs found through Craigslist and other sites.

When she didn't get tenure, English professor Diana Bloom used the website's Services section to advertise herself as a tutor, editor, and translator. She's been able to make a living through the work the website directs her way since 2002, while staying home with her young son.

"I'm not very outgoing and getting my foot in the door to companies would have been hard," said Bloom, of New York.

But most such gigs and part-time work offer no health benefits, no sick days, no paid vacations.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed part time for economic reasons, or the "underemployed," rose by 787,000 in February, reaching 8.6 million. That is up from 4.9 million the previous February.

"There is a clear correlation between economic distress and social distress," said Paul Osterman, professor of Human Resources and Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Underemployment is not good news for families."

Job postings are down overall on Craigslist, said Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist .org. But postings for short-term gigs are up.

Newspapers also run ads for temporary work. And temp agencies are reporting a flood of applicants. Active Staffing Services in New York, Jersey City, and Hialeah, Fla., has had to turn away applicants because they have so few jobs to give them.

Some companies are skipping temp agencies in favor of such ads, said Linda Gesell, executive vice president of Atrium Staffing in Boston, New York, and New Jersey. She said her company has seen a 25 percent decrease in business but is still inundated with applicants.

For Sneed, the Craigslist gigs are mostly a tool to pay off bills and student loans and supplement her full-time job. For a scavenger hunt in Albany, N.Y., she dressed up to sit in a coffee shop and wait for team members.

"I had to pretend to be a psychic, read their fortune, and then give them a piece of paper with the next clue on it," she said. "It was super campy and fit my temperament. I do enjoy indulging in a bit of melodrama every now and then."

She'll probably take up an offer next for $75 to $100 to paint faces at a child's birthday party.

"I'll use the extra money to pay off my school loan," she said. "Every little bit helps."

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