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New York money research

Hustle or Bust: Over Half of New Yorkers Need a Side Gig to Survive

Side hustles are more popular now than they ever have been before. While people across the country use them to bring in a little extra money each month, they’re especially prevalent—and, unfortunately, necessary—in high-cost areas like New York.

We wanted to know how many New Yorkers need a side hustle to make ends meet, and which additional income streams are most prevalent in the Empire State. Also, are people willing to have a little more fun with their extra money from a side gig? We’re guessing the answer is “yes,” but we turned to publicly available wage data and a custom survey to find out.

Key takeaways:

  • 57% of New Yorkers need a side hustle to make ends meet
  • 54% have missed important events in loved ones’ lives working a side hustle
  • 47% gamble their side hustle earnings
  • The highest-paying side gig in NY: Freelancing on sites like Upwork and Fiverr
  • Highest side-gig pay in NYC: Photography

The Highest-Paying Side Hustles in NY

Freelancing on sites like Upwork and Fiverr turned out to yield the highest hourly rates, averaging around $32 for our respondents. Just for comparison’s sake, this is about double the average hourly salary for full-time employees in the state, which was $16.53 as of 2020. It turns out full-time jobs might actually make more appropriate side hustles…

The Highest-Paying Side Hustles in NY

Freelancing was the only additional source of income that yielded over $30 per hour, on average. Seven other gigs came in at over $20 per hour:

  • Photography — $29
  • AirBnB Hosting — $27
  • Tutoring — $25
  • Rideshare Driving (Uber, Lyft, etc.) — $24
  • TaskRabbit — $22
  • Handyman Services — $21
  • Local tour guiding — $21

Two of the lowest paying gigs in the state—dog walking/pet sitting and seasonal farm work—still provided about the same hourly pay as a normal nine-to-five at $16 per hour each.

We also sorted our survey data to find out which gigs paid the most in each major city in NY…you know…in case you’re looking for the most extra cheddar in your area.

Dog walking/pet sitting, house cleaning, photography, and rideshare driving all showed up the most often, each providing the highest pay of any side job in two of the largest cities in the state.

Interestingly, freelancing, the most lucrative option in NY, was only the highest-paying option in ONE of the 15 cities our survey participants were from. If you live outside of Hempstead on Long Island, freelancing might not be your ticket to riches.

57% Of New Yorkers Need a Side Hustle to Make Ends Meet

Frank Sinatra famously sang, in reference to NY, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Around 50 years later…it turns out he was right. We asked our survey respondents if they needed their side income for necessary purchases like food and rent, and more than HALF reported that they did.

57% Of New Yorkers Need a Side Hustle to Make Ends Meet

It’s no secret that New York is an expensive place to live, and it looks like the average income in the Empire State doesn’t cover normal living expenses. A staggering 34% of side hustlers polled reported that they spend most of their “extra” income on essentials.

Since surviving on the average income in New York seems to be quite the gamble in and of itself, it’s not terribly surprising that only 2% spend their side income on…well, gambling. And yet, 27% of respondents reported that they are more likely to gamble with money from a side hustle than they are with money from their normal paycheck.

We also wanted to see where in the Empire State side gigs were the most prevalent (read: where the average income just isn’t enough).

Unsurprisingly, Manhattan was the most hustle-y of the 15 cities we polled, with an incredible 65% of people requiring an additional job on the side to afford the insane cost of living. Hempstead, NY, was the only other city at 60% or higher.

If you want to live in New York but don’t necessarily want to have to take on a second job to pay your bills and buy food, then Yonkers and Rochester are your best bets as far as large cities go. Only 45% of residents there need a side gig to survive. You’ve got about a 50–50 shot of your normal income being insufficient…and that’s the best you’ll do in New York.

Evidently, it’s not bad enough that NY residents feel they need a side gig to survive. A good portion of those side hustlers are also negatively affected by those jobs.

An unfortunate 54% of respondents said they had missed an important event in a loved one’s life because their side gig got in the way. Another 44% said their second job puts added wear and tear on their cars, leading to higher maintenance costs and faster depreciation. Recent headlines about the dangers of delivery gigs like Uber Eats also have to be making New Yorkers question whether working a side gig like this is worth it.

Extra money is great, but if it gets in the way of your life, destroys your car, AND is necessary to survive, maybe New York isn’t the land of opportunity after all.

Spend or Save? Where Side Hustle Money in NY Goes

Spend or Save? Where Side Hustle Money in NY Goes

We wanted to know where the money earned from side hustles in New York goes. Sure, most people report needing it to survive, but how much of it is actually used for essentials? We couldn’t imagine taking on a second job and not having at least a little fun with the money. Turns out, NY residents agreed.

While more than half of NY residents reported that a side hustle is required in their cities to make ends meet, another 33% said they spend it on fun things, like vacations, concerts, and those oh-so-necessary #treatyoself days.

We also wanted to know how much hustling New Yorkers felt they needed to do, whether that money was going toward paying down debt or going toward a jackpot in an online casino or NY betting apps. Most of our survey participants—70%—spend the money rather than save it, and a little less than half—47%—noted that they gamble with the money they earn in their side jobs.

At least some New Yorkers aren’t just working solely to make ends meet. But still, more people spending side income on food, bills, and gas is just a little upsetting.

Wrapping Up: The Best Side Hustle in NY

The TL;DR of this study is that freelancing on sites like Upwork and Fiverr is your best bet for earning some extra cheddar, as it pays an average of $32 per hour. If you live in NYC, you might want to invest in a camera, as photography is the most lucrative local side hustle. You also might need that extra income to meet living expenses, though, like 65% of Manhattanites.


We used publicly available wage data from the below sources combined with a custom survey to conduct this research study. The survey included 1,000 New Yorkers who had at least one side gig to supplement their income.


  • ZipRecruiter
  • Zippia
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor
  • SalaryExpert
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics

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