Germany's moonlighter economy

Tough times mean working second jobs

He begins his day early, in slacks and a nice shirt. He ends his day late, in overalls and work boots.

At 5 a.m., Andreas Koschorrek gets ready for his morning job as a client manager for a cleaning service. After a four-hour shift, he makes a one-hour drive to nearby Potsdam, where he pulls on overalls and washes windows. The pay from both jobs totals a little over 1,200 euros (almost $1,500) a month, just enough to pay his rent and child support for his two daughters.

"It's hectic," the trained maintenance worker says of the two-job life he began a few months ago. "Every month, the money has to go to something," he says, adding that people have to work extremely hard "just to afford vacation."

Moonlighting has long been a part of economic reality in the United States. But the financial doldrums in Europe's largest economy are beginning to force Germans like Mr. Koschorrek into working two or even three jobs to stay afloat and afford some of the finer things in life.

"Certainly what has happened elsewhere hasn't gone unnoticed in Germany," says Martin Werding, at the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich. "There have been massive changes in standard work life. Flexible contracts, people changing professions - all this has arrived in Germany as well. In that sense [working two jobs] is a part of the picture."

A system on overload

Once Europe's economic powerhouse, Germany's form of economic socialism is being strained by the very aspects that made it attractive. Entire careers spent at one company, generous pension and healthcare plans, and ironclad job protection have proved too costly and have chased away investment, say analysts.

To rein in the welfare system and make the economy more flexible, the government - after a long and bitter fight with unions and the political opposition - passed tough economic reforms in December. Among other things, the changes loosen hiring and firing laws.

"When (this system) worked really well and people had high wages, it was fine," says Melanie Arntz, at the Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim. "But now people realize in general that there seems to be something that has to be changed, and they are in favor of the reforms and are adjusting to them by having another job."

Skilled laborers like Koschorrek are facing high unemployment rates, and even white-collar professionals are no longer guaranteed full-time employment and are looking for ways to shore up their income.

Bernard Bosil has branched out from his profession of tax adviser, working a total of three jobs now to maintain his middle-class lifestyle. "Every job is so unstable, you don't know if you're going to be working in the same place three years from now," says Mr. Bosil, a native of the Rhineland city of Krefeld.

So he started his own window-cleaning company with a client list initially made up of friends and colleagues, and cut back his hours at the tax office. He now spends 20 hours a week in the office, devotes the rest of the week to the window-cleaning business - and on the weekends tops up steins at a beer garden, the same place he worked as a student.

Bosil sees advantages to becoming more economically nimble. "It's a nice change," he says. "To just sit in the office all day is too boring, I need people around me."

To help such moonlighters along - and try to bring down unemployment rates that hover around 10 percent - Germany changed labor laws last year. Under the adjustment, people working part-time jobs can earn up to 400 euros ($500) without having to pay taxes or social costs on the wage. Employers pay a set rate of 25 percent of the worker's wage to cover tax and some benefits.

In the six months after the law went into effect April 1, more than a million professionals, students, housewives, and craftsmen turned to working the so-called "minijobs," according to the federal agency set up to manage the system.

"It's clear that incentives have changed in favor of having a small job, in addition to a regular job," said Harmen Lehment, of the Kiel Institute of World Economics. "I expect more and more people will make this move and have a minijob."

For white-collar professionals like Bosil, his minijob as a waiter helps him pay the rent on his new apartment and go on weekend trips. Blue-collar workers, like Koschorrek, juggle minijobs with work in their field to stay above water.

"I never thought working two jobs would become so common," says Koschorrek, whose work is categorized as a craft in Germany.

When he completed his vocational training license in window- and building-maintenance work in the early 1990s, the demand for his services was high.

But in the years after the Berlin wall was dismantled, the window-cleaning market was flooded with east German companies bringing cheaper labor who lowballed each other on bids. Koschorrek saw his income dwindle. He tried starting a company a few years ago, but ultimately gave up at the beginning of 2003. He - and Bosil as well - may face even more competition in the future, under a new law that makes it easier for tradesmen and craftsmen to start their own businesses.

Koschorrek found work again in August last year. Now, one of the last things he packs before leaving mornings is a backpack with his worker's overalls and a pair of boots.

In the early morning hours, he folds his lanky frame into a company truck and drives to different clients to ask them if they're happy with their cleaning service. In the afternoon, he mounts a scaffolding, pocketing 338 tax-free euros as a minijobber working for a window-washing firm. At night, he often returns to his job at the building-maintenance service, walking the flourescent-lit halls of one of the buildings his company is cleaning, checking in on janitors.

His last vacation was six years ago. "I don't even have time for that anymore, I turn my vacation days into pay," he says.

More work, less rest

In a country of globetrotting tourists accustomed to 29 days of vacation each year, the statement might seem like heresy. Yet it could perhaps be a sign of things to come. Germans worked on average two hours more last year than in 2002, according to the Federal Statistics Office. While tiny, the number was notable because it was the first increase in working hours in 11 years.

The latest - and possibly last - in successive generations of window cleaners in his family, Koschorrek is now reconsidering the work. His father and grandfather were able to retire comfortably. "I thought: That's how you're going to do it, too," he says. "But, well, we see what's become of that."

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