Jeff Wagnon’s day is as long as the hose he hefts as a Tulsa firefighter.

That is because his Tulsa Fire Department helmet is just one of the many hats he wears. Wagnon also is a construction company owner, rancher and rental property manager.

“If I stopped to think about it, I would probably quit,” he says of his chaotic schedule. “I wake up early thinking about jobs. Then the phone starts ringing early in the morning and it will keep on going until the evening. Finally, I shut it down.”

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Wagnon is among a segment of Americans known as moonlighters, folks who walk a tightrope between exhilaration and exhaustion by holding down multiple jobs.

There were about 7.77 million multiple jobholders in 2018, or 5% of all employed workers, according to the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of households administered by the U.S. Census Bureau under the umbrella of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That percentage is up from 4.9% in 2017.

The multiple-jobholding rate — the proportion of that category among all employed workers — rose from 6.2% in 1994 to a high of 6.8% during the summer of 1995. But it has dropped steadily since then, dipping to 5%, where it is now, by the end of 2013.

‘I’m going to pedal hard’

Wagnon does three 24-hour shifts weekly as a captain at the Tulsa Fire Department.

When he’s not there, much of his time is devoted to his company, Benchmark Enterprises LLC, which he started about 20 years ago. Benchmark installs splash pads, commercial fabric shades and playground equipment.

Wagnon’s shade work has been displayed at universities all over the country. He also installed practically all the playground equipment at Gathering Place, Tulsa’s nationally renowned green space that opened last year. Wagnon put in the shades for the sea lions and elephants at the Tulsa Zoo, and he did the splash park that opened in July at Chandler Park.

“It gets pretty hectic because we have timelines that you’re fighting,” he says. “They tell you to ‘wait, wait, wait.’ Then they tell you to ‘hurry up.’”

In addition, Wagnon has his own cow-calf operation and manages 23 rental properties with Becky, his wife of 34 years.

“I’m going to pedal hard and provide for my family all I can. ... It’s just that drive to be a provider,” says Wagnon, the father of four grown children.

“I want to be an example for the boys. If you have integrity, if you answer your phone calls and you tell people the truth and not what they want to hear, and you work hard and smart, you’ll be successful.”

Juggling acts

Several years ago, hair stylist Marquita Owens exercised every day for a year.

She lost 60 pounds.

“I went on a fitness journey, and a lot of people kept asking me how I lost weight,” Owens says. “So I’m basically giving them the tools that I use.”

The mother of three is a fitness instructor three days a week at CYCLEBAR. Last month, she started a beverage business, making and selling fruit and vegetable juice.

“I enjoy it because it all fits in to what I do,” Owens said. “Basically, I’m catering to a person’s whole body, starting from the hair to getting them in shape to health. It all just fell into one big thing by accident. I feel like I’m a natural born entrepreneur.”

Lydia Leslie is a fifth-grade teacher at Boevers Elementary School in Broken Arrow. Last holiday season, she saw videos in Instagram about cookie creations and had a revelation.

“I can do that,” she said.

After making dinosaur cookies for a niece’s birthday and treats for her class for Valentine’s Day, she decided the oven mitt was a good fit, starting her own business, Try This Cookie, around March.

She spends five to 12 hours a week creating the desserts, selling to friends, family and others who find her on social media.

“There have been times where it’s been stressful because I’m new at it and don’t have a good grasp on how long it will take to do certain designs or how long it will take to do the whole process,” she said. “There are times when I’ve stayed up till 2 or 3 in the morning to finish. But I really do get a lot of enjoyment out of baking and decorating the cookies.”

Leslie also teaches piano, extra cash that has allowed her to help pay for her house and travel. She vacationed this summer with friends in Virginia Beach.

“Being able to have more money, I feel like I can live more comfortably,” she says.

Booked up

A graphic designer, Amanda Bilbery works four days a week for Brief Media, a company that does educational journals for veterinarians. On nights, weekends and Mondays, she uses her skills to freelance.

“I’m so not a Type A (personality),” Bilbery says. “I do have trouble saying ‘no’ to work. So I’m booked up for a while. I would like to do this full time.

“What’s preventing me is I’m lucky to have my four-day-a-week job. There’s so flexible with me. I have good benefits there, and I like my job.”

More women moonlight than men.

In 2018, a total of 5.4% of multiple jobholders (of all employed workers) were women, compared to 5% of men, according to the CPS. For women 20 to 24 years old, that percentage was 6.6 in 2018.

A single mother of a toddler, Bilbery said Brief Media caters to women.

“They understand what parenting is like, and there are a lot of ambitious women there,” she says. “They know what it is like to want a career and a child.”

Balancing both can be difficult, she says.

“I have to do it, and sometimes I just make it work,” Bilbery says. “Sometimes, it feels like I don’t really have it all together but I seem to be doing well in hindsight. A lot of it is money, and a lot of it is just that I keep getting asked to work.”

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Rhett Morgan


Twitter: @RhettMorganTW

Staff Writer

Rhett is in his fourth decade as a reporter. He covers development, manufacturing, aerospace, entrepreneurship and assorted other topics related to the Work and Money section.