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Struggling workers turn to hobbies, second jobs

Andrew Thompson carries a stack of restaurant coupons through a Coeur d’Alene neighborhood on Wednesday. He started  distributing fliers door to door to supplement his regular income as a handyman. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Andrew Thompson carries a stack of restaurant coupons through a Coeur d’Alene neighborhood on Wednesday. He started distributing fliers door to door to supplement his regular income as a handyman. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s not an easy time to find a job, and many of the jobs still around have been tarnished as employers have cut hours or sliced wages.

Add the seasonal pressure of needing money for holiday gifts, and it’s no surprise area employers say they’re seeing far more people asking for part-time work.

The quest for extra cash tends to fall into two broad categories: crafters and part-timers. Janice Weesner, a second-grade teacher in Moscow, is one of the crafters – people who are trying to redirect a hobby into a lucrative side job.

Last winter Weesner’s husband, Jeffrey, lost his electrician job as the housing market in Idaho collapsed. He’s been out of work since.

Because of their reduced family income, Weesner, 31, has turned what was an occasional practice of making handmade jewelry for friends and family into a second income stream.

“If the economy was OK, I’d never have started my own company,” she said.

But even when the recession ends, Weesner expects to continue selling handmade jewelry through her company, Garden Girl Designs LLC.

She has no plans to quit her teaching job, she said; she’ll use her summers off to continue making earrings, rings and bracelets.

In the other group are the thousands of area workers who are taking spare-time jobs – like house painting, eBay selling or snow removal – that they’d never do in a normal business climate.

It’s hard to say how many are resorting to such measures, because states typically don’t track those extra jobs.

But they include Andrew Thompson, a 40-year-old handyman who until the recession hit got along nicely by painting houses.

Thompson, a Hayden resident, says he now finds work wherever he can. This past week he spent three days walking door-to-door, distributing about 5,000 handbills for a local pizza place.

“I’ll make maybe $500 or $600 doing that,” Thompson said, tackling the job in about 12 to 14 hours.

He visits businesses regularly, asking them if they have fliers they want distributed. He’s willing to take on any other chores they need done, he said.

“I like being outside anyway,” Thompson said.

He and his former wife have two children, ages 11 and 13.

“You have to do what you can to make ends meet,” he said. “If you want to get that Wii as a Christmas present, or if you want your kids to have Levi’s instead of jeans from Wal-Mart, that’s how I see it.”

Coeur d’Alene resident Brenda Evans is doing a little bit of both, taking on a second job and trying to make extra money from a hobby. Evans, 34, is a single mom raising a 2-year-old daughter. “So I do what I can. Somehow you have to take care of things,” she said.

She works a day job as office manager for her father’s equipment dealership in Post Falls.

She now also works as a caregiver for her grandparents, who live in Rathdrum, cutting their hair, cleaning the house, doing chores and running errands.

“I am also trying to make money taking photographs,” said Evans, who recently saved enough to buy a Nikon D-90 camera.

A retired Spokane photographer is teaching her how to shoot pictures professionally. “I just finished my first paying job. I got $50 for taking a family portrait and kids’ photos,” she said proudly. The money went to buy winter clothes for Zoey, her daughter.

In two years Evans hopes to focus more on her photography, with work as a cosmetologist and as her dad’s bookkeeper as second and third jobs.

“Right now,” she added, “with those three (forms of income) I’m still not covering all our expenses.”

Spokane retail owner De Scott, who operates two locations of gift basket company Simply Northwest, says this year she’s seeing many more applications for seasonal part-time jobs from those who already have jobs and want to catch up with lost earnings.

Even one of her store managers, Denielle Waltermire, is supplementing her income for holiday expenses by making and selling picture frames.

Waltermire, 28, makes picture frames adorned with themes like camping, pets or babies and sells them on consignment at Simply Northwest for $14.95 to $19.95 each.

“I have a large family,” Waltermire said. “Selling them (the frames) doesn’t cover all my gift purchases. But they help.”

Some people might be banking on landing a holiday-season job in retail to help out, but those jobs have been harder to come by in the economic downturn, according to the National Retail Federation. Last year, retailers added about 231,000 jobs over the holiday season, down dramatically from the 618,000 seasonal jobs added the previous year, the trade organization said.

Jessica DeHaan, who runs the staffing company Express Personnel Services in Post Falls, said that while most people who seek out the company’s services are out of work, about one-fifth of the applicants are working but have lost wages, dealt with furloughs or had other reductions in their income.

She has good news and bad news for the applicants: Not many employers are offering full-time jobs as they hunker down and wait out the chilly economy, she said.

But for people who are willing to take short-term jobs, the prospects are good.

Those one-to-three-day jobs include working in retail stores, handing out product samples, and service-industry jobs such as hospitality and janitorial, DeHaan said.

For people who are out of work, those jobs can be helpful later, she added.

Most employers will want an applicant’s resume to show he or she has done some work, even if it’s temporary. “That’s better than showing a resume that doesn’t indicate you’ve tried to do anything in several months while unemployed,” she said.


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