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The term “side hustle” generally refers to a side job to a full-time job that provides additional income to the worker. Side hustles often start out as a way to provide extra pocket money or cover bills, but some eventually grow into full-fledged businesses. According to the latest data from the US Census Bureau, nearly 3 million full-time workers (2.5% of the total) had hustles in 2019 and earned an average of $6,800 a year from that extra work. These numbers are likely to increase amid the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a record number of new business applications.
Interestingly, some private surveys show that up to a third or even up to 45% Americans work nearby. The Census Bureau estimates are likely lower due to several factors related to the definition of side work and respondents’ reluctance to report side income on government forms. For one thing, the Census Bureau’s survey questionnaire specifically asks respondents about the “self-employment income” of their “own business.” Less serious side hustlers or side hustlers who only earn a minimal amount of money may not consider their efforts to be genuine businesses and therefore may not report their side hustler income. Also, workers may be reluctant to report undeclared wages to a government agency for fear of being taxed. As such, lateral hustle estimates calculated using census data reflect more legitimate business ventures that workers are willing to report to a government agency.
These factors may contribute to the fact that high-income workers are much more likely than low-wage workers to have hustles, according to Census Bureau data. More than 5% of full-time workers earning more than $100,000 a year have hustles, twice the rate of workers earning $50,000 to $75,000 and more than six times the rate of workers earning less than $25,000. Having a secondary activity is also correlated with the level of education. Nearly 4% of workers with a baccalaureate or higher diploma have secondary activities, compared to only 1.2% of secondary school graduates.