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Far West, Northeast Lead in Jobs for Artists

A new National Endowment for the Arts report finds jobs for artists are concentrated in specific states, including New York, California, Oregon, and Vermont.
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When you ask someone at a party, “What do you do for a living?” what are the odds he or she will respond “I’m an artist”?

The answer varies considerably from state to state, according to a new National Endowment for the Arts research note.

The report on artists in the workforce supplements and expands upon a 2008 paper, which found about two million Americans list a job in the arts as their primary source of employment. That comes out to 1.4 percent of American workers.

New York heads the newly released state-by-state list, with artists making up 2.3 percent of its labor force. California, home to the film and television industry, places second with 2.0 percent.

Not far behind are Oregon and Vermont, each of which has a workforce in which 1.7 percent of workers are artists. That means they exceed the national average by a substantial 20 percent.

“Writers and authors are especially prominent [in Oregon and Vermont],” the NEA report notes.

Also exceeding the national average: Colorado and Connecticut (where artists make up 1.6 of the labor force), and Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington, Nevada, and Minnesota (at 1.5 percent).

“In Nevada, dancers and entertainers account for much of this difference,” the report notes, “while in Hawaii, it can be attributed partly to fine artists, art directors, and animators.”

Indeed, it’s worth noting that "artists" is a broad category that includes actors, animators, announcers, architects, dancers, designers, musicians, writers, fine artists such as painters and sculptors and “other entertainers.” That final group includes circus performers, comics, jugglers, magicians, puppeteers, and “showgirls,” who are undoubtedly well-represented in the Nevada statistics.

Overall, 39 percent of working artists in the U.S. are designers of one sort or another (graphic, commercial, industrial, fashion, interior, etc.). Performing artists make up the next largest category, at 17 percent. Fifty-four percent of artists work in the private, for-profit sector of the economy, while 35 percent are self-employed.

Artists’ median wages and salaries were $43,000 in 2009, which was above the median for the entire workforce ($39,000). However, artists are considered “professionals,” and the median salary for professionals as a whole was $54,000.

And just in case you thought the arts were a friendlier environment for females, the NEA reports women artists earn 81 cents for every dollar earned by male artists. That’s one penny above the gap in the overall workforce, where women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.

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