Quick Study: November 17, 2022

Jo Reed:  Welcome to “Quick Study”, the monthly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts. This is where we'll show stats and stories to help us better understand the value of art in everyday life. Sunil Iyengar is the pilot of “Quick Study”. He's the Director of Research and Analysis here at the Arts Endowment. Hello Sunil.

Sunil Iyengar:  Hi, Jo.

Jo Reed:  So, what are we talking about today?

Sunil Iyengar:  Well, first Jo over the summer we released a series of research briefs about artists and art managers. We looked at demographic and geographic factors underlying these occupations and we also looked at wage discrepancies. For example, back then we reported that women who were full-time full year working artists earn 80 cents on every dollar made by men artists. Women are also vastly underrepresented we found in one of the higher paying artist jobs that of an architect. Non-white and Hispanic workers meanwhile are highly concentrated in some of the lower paying artists occupations like dancers, choreographers, or announcers.

Jo Reed:  Well, that sounds familiar. Is there something else going on you’d like to share?

Sunil Iyengar:  I don't have more data, but I did want to talk about a new report that gets to the heart of what we value when we measure trends and any form of employment. You know, one way or another we tend to rationalize why artists, who are generally high-skilled workers if you think about it, we've been able to rationalize why they select into jobs with low wages and a fair amount of instability. We often say they're passionate about their vocation. It may be what’s sometimes referred to as psychic income outweighs the benefits of higher paying jobs with more traditional benefits.

Jo Reed:  Yeah. The rationale is because you love it, we can pay you less.

Sunil Iyengar:  Yeah. And I think we've shown with research time and time again that artists and arts workers form a cluster of industries that moves hundreds of billions of dollars each year through the economy, COVID notwithstanding. It's been a growing sector. So we need to understand not only how these workers can be supported, perhaps through better wage structures, but also what other kinds of measures can be taken so that they're protected as workers. So arts jobs, which generates such societal and economic benefits, truly can be considered good jobs.

Jo Reed:  Good jobs can mean many things to many people. So what are you talking about specifically?

Sunil Iyengar:  Yeah. So good jobs is actually a term that's been used a lot in policy recently in the US to really identify jobs that are not only high-paying, but come with other kinds of benefits and, you know, kind of set up structures of support and security. So for example, an organization called the Families and Workers Fund working with the Aspen Institute has come up with a working definition of good jobs. Components of it have to do with economic stability, economic mobility, and equity, respect, and voice. So in this new report I mentioned Jo, the Families and Workers Fund strives to reimagine what job quality measurement can look like when it comes to good jobs. In other words, they want to quote change public narratives about the health of the economy, and enable data informed decisions that propel equitable economic opportunity.

Jo Reed:  Okay. So what actually does the report say?

Sunil Iyengar:  So for one thing it makes several recommendations for how the government at the federal, state, and local level can strengthen data collection on good jobs. They point out some of the very data we use to track artist jobs at the NEA. For example, the American Community Survey, and suggests that these sources be adjusted to allow for greater disaggregation of results, so we can better understand how different racial and ethnic subgroups are faring in employment and other measures. You know, we've hit this hurdle many times in our own reporting about artists and arts workers, where there's only so much we can report at the national level about the interplay between race and ethnicity in arts employment because the data sets are too small. The authors of the report also advocate broadening indicators of job quality beyond wage so that we account for factors such as worker safety, career pathways and what people's work schedules look like day-to-day. And they also want to see US workers have a voice in this data collection to learn what variables matter most to them, including to find out whether these workers have a say in such factors in their own workplaces.

Jo Reed:  Well, that all makes perfect sense and seems very sensible for understanding work in general. But what about for the arts? Are there any specific recommendations that apply to artist jobs?

Sunil Iyengar:  Yeah. The one that comes to mind is a proposal to standardize and expand data collection on non-W2 workers. These are, of course, gig workers. Artists often can be considered the quintessential gig workers. You've heard me say that before, Jo. So these very specific recommendations which are really too detailed for me to go into here could only heighten the relevance of artists as workers for policymakers. But one thing I wanted to share Jo is the White House's office of Science and Technology Policy runs the social and behavioral sciences subcommittee, and the NEA is an active participant in that. One of the key assignments of the subcommittee has been to probe how research can better inform policymaking when it comes to good jobs. So I'm hoping that the arts can continue to be part of this discussion as we look at recommendations like those offered by the Families and Workers Fund. And think how to improve federal data collection systems so that artists, who are central to the nation's creative economy, can be valued increasingly as workers and given appropriate support from all quarters.

Jo Reed:  Amen. I think this is really important especially as we're moving forward and re-evaluating workplace life after the pandemic.

Sunil Iyengar:  That’s right.

Jo Reed:  So I know we're going to be hearing more about this.

Sunil Iyengar:  Yeah, I would hope so.

Jo Reed:  Okay. Thank you so much Sunil. And I'll talk to you in 2023 because we are taking holiday next month.

Sunil Iyengar:  Yeah. Happy New Year.

Jo Reed:  Happy New Year but we will return in January with some more glimpses into research about the arts.

Sunil Iyengar:  Sounds great.

Jo Reed:  That was Sunil Iyengar. He's the Director of Research and Analysis here at the National Endowment for the Arts.  This has been “Quick Study.”  As you heard, we’ll talk to you again in January 2023. The music is “We Are One” from Scott Holmes Music.  It’s licensed through Creative Commons. Until then I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

In this episode, we look at a recent report on job quality measurement and consider its implications for strengthening the arts workforce.