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North Dakota has highest rate of residents with more than one job

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North Dakota has highest rate of residents with more than one job
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GRAND FORKS -- Sara Jenson is trying to finalize plans for her August wedding, but it's hard to find time for that when she works three part-time jobs and goes to the University of North Dakota full time.

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"With school and everything, I'm usually going from when I get up, which is like 7 or 8 in the morning, until midnight," she said. "I've been having problems sleeping, and I don't really have a social life now."

Jenson isn't the only one with a frantic schedule to keep up with the bills. In 2008, the most recent data available, 9.7 percent of employed North Dakota residents had more than one job - the highest rate in the country.

It's ranked among the top nine states in the country since 1994, consistently well above the national average, which was 5.2 percent in 2008.

South Dakota had the second-highest rate at 9.5 percent, and Minnesota was fourth at 8.8 percent. There are some unique factors in North Dakota that led to its top ranking, but it's not necessarily a good sign for the state's work force.

A choice?

Michael Ziesch, research analyst with Job Service North Dakota, said it comes down to two main factors: The state's relatively sparse population means the available worker pool is small, and the locally strong economy has led to a higher demand on existing workers to fill those new positions.

That seems like a good thing in some ways. "Just the ability to hold multiple jobs probably says something about the economy," he said.

But it also raises an important question about why so many residents have more than one job: Are they doing it by choice or because their primary job simply isn't enough? "That's difficult to gauge," Ziesch said.

There is no report on the number of underemployed residents not earning enough even though they work to find a definite answer to this question, though. "For the most part, I'm sure people aren't working 60 hours a week because they enjoy it," Ziesch said.

Another factor helps explain why Midwestern states generally rank near the top in this statistic - the large percentage of residents who live and work on farms and often pick up seasonal jobs on the side, which makes them multiple job-holders.

Getting by

Jenson did everything young adults think will be enough to land a high-paying career - she went to college out of high school, earning a criminology degree from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2008.

"I thought I'm going to go to college, I'm going to get a good job right when I get out, and I'm going to be set," she said. "And that's definitely not the case. Nowadays, just a bachelor's degree isn't going to get you very far."

After searching for about six months, Jenson was able to get a part-time job with Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota in Grand Forks. She started in the Attendant Care program, which provides a short-term alternative to jail or detention for juveniles facing criminal charges.

It's an on-call position that has varying hours each week, but she said she liked it and wanted to get more hours, so she snatched up two other part-time jobs with Lutheran Social Services. Between all three, she averages 30 to 45 hours a week - but because they're in different programs, it's considered part time and she doesn't get benefits.

Jenson, now 23, has lived without health insurance for more than a year, an added stress on top of an already stressful schedule. "I'm pretty healthy, but everyone has to go to the doctor every once in a while, unfortunately," she said.

She started as a full-time UND student this month and said she should earn a bachelor's degree in social work in about a year. Jenson's part-time jobs have helped her get experience and pick a new career path that could give her a more normal schedule.

"I want to start a family one day, and mine's going to be put on hold for a little bit because of what's going on," she said.

Jenson is going ahead with her August wedding, even though it means she has to spend her weekends doing homework and finalizing wedding plans.

Beverly Larson is one of Jenson's co-workers at Lutheran Social Services, working in the Attendant Care program and an after-school program that provides supervision to teens with a history of delinquent offenses.

She took the jobs to get experience after earning a criminal justice degree at UND in May 2008. Both positions are part time and involve working mainly afternoons and evenings, so she took a part-time job at the Grand Forks Herald doing morning dispatch of newspaper deliveries.

Larson works 40 to 50 hours a week, but like Jenson, she doesn't receive benefits or health insurance because it's all part-time work. Still, it's a schedule she can tolerate for now.

But the 31-year-old learned how to handle it only after spending years with more than one job. She worked at a tanning salon and a telemarketing company to pay for her UND studies, which she hoped would lead to a better schedule.

"Once I graduated, I couldn't find any work," she said.

Larson stayed at the tanning salon for her first post-college year before getting a job with Lutheran Social Services. She eventually wants to go into forensic sciences, which will require more time in college, and she hopes to move to a bigger city with more job opportunities in the next couple of years.

"My goal is to get that one full-time job with great pay and benefits, because I don't want to do this the rest of my life," Larson said.

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