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The term “side hustle” generally refers to a job on the side of a full-time job that brings in supplemental income for the worker. Side hustles often begin as a means to provide extra spending money or cover bills, but some eventually turn into full-fledged businesses. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 3 million full-time workers (2.5% of total) had side hustles in 2019 and earned a median $6,800 annually from this extra work. These numbers are likely to increase amid the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside record numbers of new business applications.
Interestingly, certain privately conducted surveys show that up to a third or even as many as 45% of Americans perform work on the side. Census Bureau estimates are likely lower due to several factors pertaining to how side hustle work is defined and hesitancy among respondents to report side income on government forms. For one, the Census Bureau survey questionnaire asks respondents specifically about “self-employment income” from their “own businesses.” Less serious side hustlers or side hustlers who earn only a minimal amount of money may not view their efforts as actual businesses and thus might not report their side hustle earnings. In addition, workers may be hesitant to report under-the-table pay to a government agency for fear of being taxed. As such, the side hustle estimates calculated using Census data reflect those more legitimate business ventures that workers are willing to report to a government agency.
These factors perhaps contribute to the fact that higher-income workers are much more likely than low-wage workers to have side hustles, based on Census Bureau data. Over 5% of full-time workers earning over $100,000 per year have side hustles, twice the rate of workers earning $50,000–75,000, and more than six times the rate of workers earning less than $25,000. Having a side hustle is also correlated with educational attainment. Almost 4% of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher have side hustles, compared with just 1.2% of high school graduates.