Graph showing secondary employment by artist occupation (all images via

Graph from the NEA data study (all images via

Not long ago we wrote about a study that took up the question of who is an artist, examining some of the ways in which defining creative workers is difficult. One of those issues stems from employment — whether the label “artist” refers only to people who work as such full time. On Monday the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) added to the conversation by releasing a new data set called “Keeping My Day Job: Identifying U.S. Workers Who Have Dual Careers as Artists.”

The survey, which draws on monthly census data collected from 60,000 households, explains:

Most analyses of artist employment refer to workers in primary artist occupations. (The primary job is defined as one at which the greatest number of hours were worked.) In 2013, 2.1 million workers were employed as artists in their primary occupation.

In that same year, however, an additional 271,000 workers held second jobs in artist occupations.

Those secondary-jobbers account for about 12% of the total number of US artists in 2013, the report goes on to say. So, what do we know about them?


(click to enlarge)

The findings aren’t super extensive, but they’re interesting. Musicians make up the largest category of secondary-artist jobs, with 84,000 in 2013, although the largest group by percentage of total artist jobs is, curiously, announcers (defined as “speak or read from scripted materials on radio and television or make announcements over public-address systems and sporting or public events”). Unsurprisingly, most people who work as artists on the side sustain a longer work week — 46 hours — at both their jobs, whereas those who are employed primarily as artists work 37 hours a week. Nearly half of the group of secondary artists work in “professional” day jobs, which means “jobs that usually require college training.” In fact, both primary and secondary artists are, on the whole, far more educated than the rest of the US labor force: 65% have bachelor’s or higher-level degrees, versus 32% of the larger force. And, almost 21% of the secondary-job artists work primarily as teachers — further proof of the artistic-educational complex! (Also a finding that relates specifically to the study we discussed a couple weeks ago.)

The report includes three supplementary charts and tables that offer more information on the primary artist population, concentrating on unemployment rates. Unemployment has decreased in the last year for artists overall, but only very slightly, from 7.3% to 7.1%. On the whole, the group remains stuck at a higher unemployment rate than all US workers, and finding jobs remains especially difficult for actors, dancers and choreographers, announcers, and photographers.


h/t Southern California Public Radio

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

One reply on “NEA Captures Data on Artists with Day Jobs”

  1. 12% of artists having secondary employment sounds really low to me. My guess is that the vast majority of artists have secondary employment. I’m glad they did this, but I really wonder about the methodology because who is being counted and who isn’t being counted remains a bit mystery to me here – ex. if only 12% of the actors they spoke to or are counting have second jobs, them they aren’t looking at very many actors. Same for dancers. That work is so contingent, so poorly paid when it is paid and all the performers I know have at least 3 different kinds of hustle that let them keep going. My sense is that they are still relying too heavily on taxable income as the marker of whether or not an artist counts as an artist, and that’s a really fuzzy boundary.

    That said, I’m glad to see they’re taking at least this first step toward recognizing the complexities of the working lives of people who don’t have only one job. Hopefully other govt agencies will start to see that this is a growing reality for many, not just in the arts.

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