NEA releases landmark study on multiple jobholding in the arts

NEA releases landmark study on multiple jobholding in the arts


On August 9, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the release of a landmark research report on artists’ employment, specifically examining multiple jobholding or “moonlighting.” Commissioned by the NEA’s Research Division, More Than Once in a Blue Moon: Multiple Jobholdings by American Artists is unprecedented for the breadth of data examined that compares artists’ employment with that of other professions. Researchers and authors Neil O. Alper and Gregory H. Wassall reviewed thirty years of information in developing the report, primarily from the Current Population Survey, a monthly Census Bureau survey sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the key findings of the report is that artists moonlight at a rate 40 percent higher than other professional workers, with as many as 80 percent of artists holding second jobs at some point within a year. Also, artists indicated more often that their primary motivation for moonlighting is to earn additional income to cover household expenses. Other relevant figures for artists include unemployment rates that are twice those of other professional workers and earnings that are 12 to 23 percent less than other professionals.

According to 1995 data included in the study, 13 percent of musicians and composers held a second job. Music was the most popular moonlighting profession, with thirty-nine percent of all workers claiming music performance or composition as a second job.

Another important finding is the shifting nature of second jobs. Fifty-five to seventy-five percent of second jobs held by artists are in professional and technical fields that include the arts. However, since 1985, the number of moonlighting artists with second jobs also in the arts decreased from three in five to one in three. At the same time, the number of moonlighting artists with second jobs in fields other than the arts increased from one in ten to one in three.

General comparison of the artistic labor market with other professional labor markets revealed several significant differences. The authors characterized jobs in the arts as relatively “open,” for instance, frequently requiring little or nothing in the way of minimum education or certification. The artistic labor market is also distinguished by fewer stable and full-time jobs than in other professional markets. Even college music teaching jobs are considered less “full-time” than other types of professional work because they last only nine months, generally necessitating a secondary job during the summer.

The authors provided another description of the artistic labor market as “winner-takes-all.” In a “winner-takes-all” market, a few people earn large incomes, while the median income is relatively low. Given the openness of the artistic job market, there is a constant oversupply of artists aspiring to become wealthy and famous. Many see their occupation as a “calling” and are unwilling to give up and switch occupations.

Alper and Wassall co-direct the Cultural Arts Policy Research Institute with Ann Galligan, a fellow faculty member at Northeastern University. In an interview, Alper stressed that their goal is simply to provide information that could be used to help formulate public policy on the arts, not to advocate specific policies. This conscientiously neutral approach is reflected in the conclusions they drew from their findings.

A government program designed to ameliorate the need for artists to hold second jobs would be politically difficult for two reasons, according to Alper and Wassall: “The employment difficulties of artists are not of the same order of magnitude as those of workers with little education or job skills, such as minority teenagers or welfare mothers.” Also, there are multiple motives for moonlighting, not all of which imply job market duress.

While the authors respect the idea of government aid to artists, they also cited three reasons to doubt the effectiveness of such support. Chief among these is that when it becomes financially easier to work as an artist, more people choose artistic careers. The number of jobs remains finite, and consequently the newcomers end up “moonlighting” to make ends meet. Secondly, it is difficult to come up with a practical definition of who is an “artist” and thus deserves government support. And finally, statistics show that artists living in countries with far greater direct government support moonlight at roughly the same rate as American artists.

The Current Population Survey includes artist occupational groups such as actors, musicians, playwrights and sculptors. The authors of the study grouped musicians and composers with actors, directors, dancers, and announcers into a single group, “performing artists.” Postsecondary music teachers fall into the category of “other artists.” Neil Alper explained that had they broken their data down to the point of a separate group for musicians and composers, the sample would have been too small to be reliable.

More specific information on the plight of performing musicians and composers is available, however. Research Division Note #76, Artist Employment in 1999 was released concurrently with More Than Once In a Blue Moon. The study examines the increase in artist employment during the year and includes information on earnings and projected employment growth.

The Current Population Survey showed that for the 271,000 people working as musicians, 36.5% considered it a second job, a higher percentage than any other group of artists. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook prepared by the BLS, the median salary for musicians, singers, and related workers was $30,020 in 1998 and the projected increase by 2008 falls between 10 and 20 percent. This calculation does not include salary information for music teachers.

Based on the CPS, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 12,000 fewer musicians and composers in the labor force in 1999 than in 1998. This can be broken down into 1,000 fewer unemployed musicians and 11,000 fewer employed musicians; in plain English, this means that 12,000 musicians or composers have retired or found work doing something else.

In 1999, the unemployment rate among musicians and composers was 4.8%. This is down from 5.2% in 1998 and 7.1% in 1997. The unemployment rate is calculated based on the number of people declaring their primary occupation as that of musicians and composers. Of the eleven artist occupations listed, musicians and composers ranked 5th in terms of total unemployment. Teachers of art, drama, and music had the third-lowest unemployment rate, only 2.8%. The general civilian unemployment rate in 1999 was 3.9%.

More Than Once in a Blue Moon: Multiple Jobholdings by American Artists is available, for $11.95, by writing to Seven Locks Press, P.O. Box 25689, Santa Ana, CA 92799, or by calling 800-354-5348.

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