State of the arts: The NEA reports

October 31, 2011

Turns out not every artist is starving. But it’s official: dancers are not only barefoot, they’re poor and female. At least on average, compared to other artists.

The National Endowment for the Arts just released a report, Artists and Arts Workers in the United States, that tracks the demographics of 11 arts types (including actors and musicians as well as dancers), comparing them to one another as well as the rest of the U.S. workforce. Derived from data collected between 2005 and 2010, the NEA’s survey follows up on a 2008 report covering the years from 2000 to 2005.

Since 2002, labor force growth among artists has lagged behind that of the general workforce.

But the money for artists in general doesn’t look half bad, perhaps because the 2011 report includes designers (40 percent of the arts workforce) and architects (10 percent). Artists’ annual median wage/salary is $43,230, compared to $39,280 for the U.S. labor force overall.

It's $27,392, however, for the average dancer, choreographer, and/or dance teacher. The only artists who make less are photographers, at $26,875, and “other entertainers”—magicians, showgirls—at $25,363.

Dancers form the smallest of the 11 groups (1.3 percent of the arts workforce) but are at the top of the list in several categories.

Dancers include the largest percentage of racial and ethnic minority members—by far—at 41 percent. The next group after them is “other entertainers” at 27.7 percent. The national labor force’s percentage of minorities is 31.7 percent.

Dancers also show the smallest numbers for having a bachelor’s degree (26 percent) and are the youngest group, with a median age of 25. Because dancers have such a short shelf life, many don’t go to college, at least at normal college age, and are relatively uneducated by the time they get out of the biz at 30, or whenever it is that their bodies wear out.

And dancers are overwhelmingly female: 78 percent are women. The only other arts groups in which women are the majority of the workforce are writers, 56 percent female, and designers, 54 percent. 

There are no figures on the rates of pregnancy among working dancers. But I’m guessing that percentage, at least, is small.