According to a newly published report by SMU Data Arts, unemployment in the arts doubled that of the national average in the U.S., with BIPOC individuals and those with disabilities bearing the brunt of the impact.

Although employment returned for some workers of the arts sector, this recovery appears to have been virtually nonexistent for BIPOC and disabled workers.

“Unemployment in the arts was double that of overall national unemployment, and BIPOC and disabled individuals were disproportionately affected. In the early months of the pandemic, unemployment in the arts and culture sector spiked to nearly 30% while the national rate hit about 15%. Within the sector, Black, Indigenous, Asian, multiracial and disabled individuals saw higher rates of unemployment than the sector overall.,” the report states.

SMU DataArts is a joint project of the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. Their mission is “to empower arts and cultural leaders with high-quality data and evidence-based resources and insights that help them to overcome challenges and increase impact.”

The report analyzed unemployment rates in the arts and culture sector relative to the overall national unemployment rate to identify trends in how the sector fared from January 2020 through January 2022.

Data revealed that in January and February of 2020, national and arts and culture sector unemployment rates were similar at about 4%, researchers say. The onset of the pandemic led to skyrocketing unemployment in April 2020, with national unemployment at almost 15% and arts and culture sector unemployment over 28%. December 2021 was the first month where the unemployment rate in the arts sector matched that of the national unemployment rate, both returning to pre-pandemic levels.

However, since January 2020, white respondents surveyed recognized unemployment rates roughly 1% below the sector unemployment rate. But Black, Indigenous, Asian, and multiracial respondents who were surveyed collectively averaged unemployment rates about 6% higher than the sector overall, with greater spikes in the first four months of the pandemic. Those identifying their ethnicity as Hispanic recognized higher levels of unemployment than non-Hispanic survey respondents. Respondents identifying with a disability averaged unemployment rates three to four percentage points higher than those identifying without a disability over the trend period. That figure increases to about 12 points if looking only at the first six months of 2020.

According to the report, the U.S. labor force consists of just over 75% White and just under 25% BIPOC individuals. Prior to, and throughout the pandemic, arts and culture workforces were in fact “whiter” than the labor force in general, with the greatest spike at the beginning of the pandemic when White employees accounted for up to 88% of the workforce. Even as overall employment in the sector has returned to pre-pandemic levels (as discussed in the previous section), BIPOC employees are still represented in the arts and culture sector below their representation in the labor force overall.

“These shifts in unemployment also created workplaces where those who remained employed were disproportionately individuals identifying as White – even more so than in the national workforce overall.”

Data released this past January by the Brookings Institution, also concluded that a growing racial gap continues to hinder U.S. employment recovery in general, most notably effecting Black women and Black teens. The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC.

“December’s jobs report shows positive trends at the aggregate level in terms of employment, labor force participation, and added jobs. Nevertheless, the growing racial disparity in employment underscores that the economic recovery is still being impeded by systemic bias against Black workers—particularly, Black women and Black teens.”