The pandemic’s impact on workers has been nothing short of devastating. In addition to fueling the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, even working Americans are earning less.

Meanwhile, parents of young children — and many older workers — are considering dropping out of the workforce because of dueling responsibilities and discouragement.

Retirement challenges also have soared as an increasing number of Americans tap savings to get by.  Side hustles have become key to paying the rent for more than a quarter of the country.

Pandemic’s impact on workers: Lost income

A raft of recent surveys look at the pandemic’s impact. The surveys, conducted by FlexJobs, DollarSprout, and SimplyWise, all examined slightly different aspects of the pandemic’s impact on workers. However, they all showed widespread upheaval and economic loss.

Some 27% of workers are earning less now than when the pandemic began, according to SimplyWise. The impact was most dramatic among working parents. Roughly 40% of working parents were forced to either voluntarily reduce their hours or quit entirely, according to FlexJobs. Of those who quit, nearly four in ten are not sure whether they’ll go back to work.

Retirement anxiety is up 58% since this time last year. Fully 73% of pre-retirees expect to continue working after they start receiving Social Security benefits, according to SimplyWise. About half of all Social Security recipients work today at least part-time.

Even side hustles have become less lucrative. Roughly a quarter of those who earn extra income on the side report that they’re earning less than before the pandemic, according to DollarSprout.

Demands for flexibility

Because most schools remain closed to in-person learning, working parents have been coping with the daunting task of juggling work and, often, multiple school schedules. That’s left working parents appreciating work-life balance more than ever.

Nearly 8 in 10 parents said work/life balance was a top consideration when weighing the benefits of a new job; 77% said salary was a top determinant. Having flexible work options, such as four-day work weeks and staggered schedules, ranked just below salary, with 73% of those polled placing it as a top priority.

The good news

Half of working parents said that they’ve been more productive working from home, than they were in the office. Despite the challenges of balancing kids and work in shared space, half of workers expect to work from home in 2021. Another 22% plan to ask to work from home.

Other studies indicate that employers are likely to be receptive to the idea. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25% to 30% of workers will be allowed to work from home multiple days each week in coming years. Before the pandemic, only about 4% of Americans worked at home half time or more.

Side hustles

At a time when unemployment is rampant, side hustles are increasingly being used to pay the bills, according to DollarSprout. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed said they used their side hustle income to pay monthly bills. But the bulk of respondents still use side hustle income mainly to pay off debts and buy things they could otherwise not afford.

Side hustlers are not necessarily the people you would expect to be moonlighting. DollarSprout’s survey found that the majority have college degrees and one-third earn more than $75,000 annually. One third of side hustlers are over the age of 54, despite many believing that side hustles are purview of the young.

Notably, 33% of side hustlers earn more than $500 per month. Of those, 80% work on their side jobs less than 15 hours per week.

Best paid side jobs

The most common side hustles involve using gig apps like Uber, Swagbucks and Postmates that don’t demand special skills, according to DollarSprout.

But the best paid side gigs involve providing skilled services, such as freelance writing or web design. Of side hustlers who earn more than $1,000 per month, 58% provide a skilled service, the site says.

Notably, an increasing number of online platforms now connect skilled workers with highly-paid positions in accounting, human resources, marketing, technology and other fields.

Some of the better professionals-only platforms include WorkingNotWorking (writers/artists/illustrators/film makers/web designers), FlexProfessionals (lawyers, administrators, public relations/communications), WAHVE (insurance, human resources and accounting) and consulting platforms such as Gerson Lehrman, Zintro and Maven.

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