This is part 2 of The Grind, a new CBC Newfoundland and Labrador series about people who work multiple jobs to offset the rising cost of living.
Guitars and basses adorn the walls of Kelsey Arsenault’s living room in St. John.
There is a cello hidden in a corner, next to a keyboard waiting to be stored in its case and transported to the next concert downtown. His framed music degree hangs above an old upright piano.
Today, Arsenault uses these instruments less than ever.
The 28-year-old had to quit her dream job last year when she realized that despite juggling multiple jobs (like a growing number of Canadians), she still couldn’t pay the rent.
Arsenault has a master’s degree in music therapy. When he moved to Newfoundland to start his practice, he accepted two part-time therapy positions, one of them with the provincial health authority, and saw, at his peak, about 28 clients.
But with the cost of food, bills and fuel rising across Canada over the past two years, he realized his income needed a boost.
“I was getting by… but then I had to look for a third job, actually to supplement my income because I just couldn’t pay the rent,” Arsenault says, sitting on the bench of her worn-out piano.
“I had bills to pay. I had student loans from the degree I had just gotten.”
SEE | Kelsey Arsenault on leaving her professional passion out of necessity
One in a million
Arsenault is one of the million Canadians who have more than one job, according to a StatsCan report released in August. As Breaking: reported last week, a third of them now work multiple jobs out of necessity, not choice.
In the greater St. John’s area, balloon rental over the past two years – compounded by a tighter housing supply and the rising cost of consumer goods – has left people like Arsenault hoarding jobs to keep up with inflationary pressure.
Arsenault’s third job took her to work at a downtown bar.
“That lasted until 3 in the morning, and then I would get up in the morning and work with a little boy,” he recalled.
“It was just exhausting. When you’re working with a lot of complex needs and different emotions, you have to put a lot of yourself into those positions… You’re really putting a lot into it.”
Arsenault abandoned her therapy career and her job as a maid last fall, swapping it for a nine-to-five desk job that she considers emotionally unstimulating but that pays her about $60,000 a year. After taxes and deductions, she brings home about two-thirds of that amount. (To protect Arsenault’s livelihood, Breaking: agreed not to identify her current employer.)
It’s the kind of boring office career you spent your 20s trying to avoid, but now require to pay for your degree.
And that degree was meant to get him an occupation he loves but can no longer afford.
“I was working afternoons, mornings, all kinds of scattered shifts just to get by,” Arsenault said. Rising rents (and more than $35,000 in student debt) became an increasingly overwhelming burden.
“It came down to the real need to… pay my bills, do what I had to do to survive.”
Nowadays, music has taken a back seat, but it is still a second job that takes up the vast majority of his free time. He spends his evenings and weekends rehearsing, practicing and composing, refusing to allow his variety of instruments to gather dust.
“When you start a dream and you pursue it,” he says, “[you think], ‘This is going to be it.’ Like, ‘I’m going to be a music therapist.’ I’m going to start my own private practice.
“And then… you go out into the real world and, like, you’re trying to buy a block of cheese.”
A worrying trend
Experts contacted by Breaking: have painted a bleak picture for Canadian workers in 2023.
“The price of everything we buy has increased rapidly,” says Walid Hejazi, an economics professor at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.
“Our income isn’t keeping up, which means our purchasing power is falling. Which means all these people who were barely making ends meet in the best of times are now suddenly incredibly challenged.”
You… go out into the real world and, like, you’re trying to buy a block of cheese.-Kelsey Arsenault
Julia Smith, an assistant professor of labor studies at the University of Manitoba, says Canada is seeing a trend where workers aren’t able to use their education: “people going to school to get degrees or diplomas or whatever… .and then you go out and not necessarily be able to find work.”
Smith says more and more people are having to give up jobs they are passionate about to cover their living expenses.
“Do I need to get a second job? Can I keep this job? Do I just cut back on time? Do I skip meals?” Those are the questions people ask, she says.
Karen Foster, an associate professor at Dalhousie University, researches the sociology of work. She says there is a direct link between socioeconomics and health.
“We’re not meant to work 24 hours a day,” he says. “We are meant to rest and have community time, family time, time with friends and time alone.”
In rural Atlantic Canada, working multiple jobs (also known as occupational pluralism) is not a historically rare phenomenon. It often allows the worker the flexibility to earn an income where and when he wants, particularly in small and remote economies, or do something he likes, such as making and performing music.
Workers who cannot use their education
But Foster has noticed a disturbing trend.
“The problem arises when those multiple jobs are incompatible, exhausting, or not freely chosen,” says Foster.
“And in our current economy, more and more people are being pushed into this bad version of [multiple job holding]”.
Arsenault is not fooled: he never believed he could make a living from his musical career.
But she did hope that combining music and health care would be a compromise of sorts: a way to generate a modest income that could keep her housed and fed.
“I hope to do music therapy again someday, but I’ll do that for now,” he says.
The Grind: Do you have a story to tell?
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