The Side Hustle Craze: A Q&A With MGA’s Dr. Greg George

Author: News Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2023 12:00 AM
Categories: Faculty/Staff | School of Business | Pressroom

Macon, GA

Dr. Greg George at the 2023 UGA Georgia Economic Outlook forum, where he was among the speakers.

Let’s talk side hustles.

According to a recent survey, two in five Americans created or maintained at least one additional source of income in 2022. That represents an increase from late 2020, mostly driven by members of the millennial and Gen Z generations.

Side hustles are a hot topic, so to learn more we turned to Dr. Greg George, associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Economic Analysis, which he co-founded at Middle Georgia State University in 2005. George is a senior fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, which advises state government on taxes, budgets, and economic issues.

What exactly is a side hustle?

Side hustles are actually nothing new. Historically, many workers have taken on second jobs or part time work to help make ends meet.  In economics, we actually have a measurement for the “underemployed” - individuals who have a job, but want to work more hours.  Part time employees who want full time positions fall into this category.  As a result, the headline unemployment numbers can be misleading, since underemployed workers are simply counted as “employed.” In some cases, it’s not for the need of additional income, but merely an opportunity to provide valuable services that motivate workers to pick up additional work. Many professors engage in paid consulting work, which is one way to project faculty expertise into the community as part of their community service obligations.   

The difference today is that the options for supplemental income have exploded.  Access to high speed internet and social media sites have created a new market for people to share their expertise, hobbies and interests.  This has created opportunities for people with unique talents and skills to reach global audiences like never before. We’ve all heard stories of “YouTubers” making millions playing video games or broadcasting rocket launches. 

Why do you think we are we seeing a bump in the number of Americans, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, working side hustles?

People in their 20s and 30s are either just entering, or relatively new to the labor force.  As a result, their human capital, relative to others in the labor force, is still somewhat limited. As workers gain experience, their wages increase commensurately.  Workers in their 20s and 30s are also starting families and often operate within tight budgets. This increases the need to find additional income. Fortunately, individuals in their 20s and 30s are also the most technologically literate generation and have naturally gravitated into the new opportunities found on the internet. 

A seemingly widespread notion in our society – in parts of our society, anyway - is that Americans should be able to pay all of their bills by working just one job. Was that ever really true? Have side hustles always been common but for some reason we’re just talking about them more?  

Exactly. One important consideration is that efficiency gains in the past 40 years have been phenomenal.  With access to computers and new technologies, workers have become increasingly productive. Increased productivity frees up time to redirect in other directions. The idea that “side-hustles” are involuntary or oppressive misses an important point - that many of them can be both fun and rewarding.  Just recently, I met with an economic development authority and discussed the economic impacts of a potential new development in the area.  To call this a “side-hustle” tarnishes the positive impacts that result from such activity - to both the worker and the clients.  That being said, many workers find themselves working additional hours, not because they find it rewarding, but out of necessity.  Fortunately, with the current labor shortage, those who need such opportunities, can readily find them.