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The real reason so many people are working 'side hustles'

  • Nearly 70 percent of people who become "side hustlers" are doing so for financial reasons, according to a new report by automated investing platform Betterment.
  • A dearth of retirement savings is why 1 in 3 people have to work more than one job.
  • More than 15 percent of people in the gig economy are more than $50,000 in arrears.
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The "side hustle" is often framed as a way for people to embrace a hobby beyond their 9-to-5 job or to ride their way to becoming a millionaire.

In reality, most people pick up multiple jobs because they can't make ends meet.

Nearly 70 percent of people who become "side hustlers" are doing so for financial reasons, according to a new report by automated investing platform Betterment. The study was based on surveys with 1,000 people aged 25 and older who work in the "gig economy," in which people make money on projects like digital apps and work on their own schedules.

"This is something being forced on people. " -Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University

"A lot of people hit on the freedom or flexibility of it, but for most of the people I speak with it's a means of income for them," said Nick Holeman, a senior financial planner at Betterment.

A shortage in retirement savings is what drives 1 in 3 people to work more than one job, the survey found. Nearly a quarter of people who pick up side hustles on top of their full-time job say they have less than $1,000 saved for their golden years.

And as people age, those additional jobs become all the more crucial.

More than 75 percent of people over age 55 in the gig economy are leaning on their side jobs to save for old age, the findings reveal.

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Even with working more than one job, 70 percent of people who work full-time in the gig economy say they're unprepared to maintain their current lifestyle in their later decades. In fact, 20 percent say they'll need to still put in some amount of work in their "retirement."

Debt is another major reason people clock into multiple jobs.

Over 70 percent of side hustlers are working to pay off debt, and more than 15 percent of them are more than $50,000 in arrears, excluding mortgages, Betterment found.

More than 40 percent of people take on second or third jobs to pay off their credit card debt and more than a third do so to repay their education.

Other people report needing to look for more than one paycheck because of their bills.

Holeman said it was positive that people were "leveraging" side hustles to meet their financial goals.

"Maybe picking up a side hustle in your spare time is easier than reducing your lifestyle or expenses," he said.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, was less sanguine.

"This is not a choice," she said. "This is something being forced on people."

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Here's what you lose if you join the gig economy