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What Earns $70 Billion and is as Large as an Army?

Answer:  Artists working in the United States.

The National Endowment for the Arts has compiled census data to give a picture of artists in the United States through 2005.  There are just shy of 2 million artists, 1.4% of the work force, and photographers total just under 150,000 (7.4% of all artists).  Overall, 60% of photographers are men but under age 35 60% of photographers are women.

The report debunks one major myth about artists, that artists are for the most part unemployed and marginal, as it found that only 13% of the people whose primary occupation is as an artist also have a second job.  Digging deeper though, just shy of half the photographers are full-year, full-time workers.

Additional Photographer Details:

-More than 80% of photographers are non-Hispanic white but the field is becoming more diverse.  The proportion for non-Hispanic white photographers under 35 is 73%.

-The median age in the field is 39 with the majority over 35.

-Over 40% of photographers are self-employed.

-The median income of photographers, $26,300, is lower than the median for artists and lower than the median for the US work force.  The median income for male photographers, $35,500, is more than the double the median income for female photographers, $16,300.

-If you only look at full-year, full-time photographers the median income is $37,600 which is more than than the national median income, $30,100.

-In New Jersey, my home state, the number of photographers dropped by 18% between 1990 and 2005.

In his preface to the report, NEA Chairman, Dana Gioia, writes:

Compared to other U.S. workers, American artists tend to be better educated and more entrepreneurial. Artists are twice as likely to have earned a college degree as other members of the U.S. labor force, though they receive relatively less financial compensation for their educational level. Artists are also 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed. American artists have learned to be creative not merely in their chosen fields but also in how they manage their lives.

He concludes with:

From global exports to local investments, the new American economy depends on imagination, innovation, and creativity, and those are the skills that artists develop, nurture, and promote. Isn’t it time that the nation notices?

New York Times Article on the Report

NEA “Artists in the Workforce, 1990-2005” Report