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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The current unemployment rate in the United States is now 8.1 percent, but the job situation looks much worse if you add in the millions of underemployed - those are people forced to work part-time.

For many, making a living means cobbling together several part-time jobs. And now there are some apps that help you do that.

Reporter Nishat Kurwa of Turnstyle News has the story from San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLATTERING)

SHANNON MILLS: The ceiling's the most challenging part...

NISHAT KURWA, BYLINE: Shannon Mills has blanketed the floor in this spacious home in Corte Madera, California with protective plastic. Now she's taping off the trim, getting ready to paint over the peach-colored living room walls with the more neutral Bisque shade waiting in cans at her feet.

MILLS: Yeah. I've been using the famous blue masking tape.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASKING TAPE UNROLLING)

MILLS: ...you know, trying to use really professional stuff.

KURWA: Mills is not professionally trained for the work she's been doing lately - everything from sewing curtains to fixing drywall. Until about five months ago, the 38-year-old was the director of a non-profit in Berkeley. She left that job, and after freelancing for awhile, she decided to hunt for something more permanent.

MILLS: And I started putting out the applications, and you know how the job market is, there were just crickets on the other end. No responses. People weren't even telling me thank you for sending an application.

KURWA: Mills started searching for work on TaskRabbit.com, a website that connects people who need money, with others who need someone to perform casual work.

LEAH BUSQUE: It's really about empowering people in a service networking marketplace to connect and help each other out.

KURWA: That's TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque. She launched this online labor marketplace in 2008. Many of the site's early Rabbits were unemployed people looking to tide themselves over until they found a stable job. The San Francisco company now has 4,000 TaskRabbits, and a thousand more on a waiting list.

BUSQUE: Our most popular tasks are in the categories of house chores, grocery deliveries, food deliveries, trips to Costco, Target.

KURWA: The online classifieds site Craigslist used to be the go-to destination to hire and find casual work. But unlike Craigslist, TaskRabbit has an infrastructure of profiles, bidding, and reviews. And founder Leah Busque says she's paid special attention to the trust factor.

BUSQUE: You go through a series of background checks that include a Social Security number trace, a federal criminal background check, a country background check. There's about five of them that we do.

ARIEL SEIDMAN: Trust and reputation are critical, right. I mean ultimately we're helping facilitate a transaction between two different people.

KURWA: Ariel Seidman is the founder of Gigwalk, an 18-month-old company in San Francisco, with a similar goal: to help people make extra cash. But Gigwalk matches people with businesses that want to outsource work but don't want to hire full-time employees.

Twenty-three year old Maia Bittner is a software engineer who used Gigwalk and found that Microsoft was hiring people to take panoramic photos of the inside of the coffee shops where she was often doing her programming work anyway.

MAIA BITTNER: And they were going to post this onto Bing maps, so that if people were looking up different restaurants to go to, they would be able to see what the atmosphere was like. And I figured the seven dollars would buy my coffee for the day.

KURWA: Bittner eventually found a full-time job, so she doesn't use Gigwalk much anymore. But Shannon Mills continues to use TaskRabbit, and earns about a $1,000 a month.

MILLS: It's enough to sustain me. I think that this is an experiment for me, and I'd liked to see what works and maybe what doesn't work.

KURWA: The catch is, services like TaskRabbit don't offer benefits, health insurance or a guarantee the work will be there the next day. But, that's not stopping these companies' growth. Gigwalk has more than 100,000 people signed up nationwide. And TaskRabbit plans to roll out its service in three new cities, for a total of eight around the country.

For NPR News, I'm Nishat Kurwa.

GREENE: And Nishat is a reporter for Turnstyle News.com, which is a project of Youth Radio.

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