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The culture sector labour force: Has the 1990s boom turned to bust?

Culture sector employment, 1991-2003

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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The first of these two reports on cultural sector work, The culture sector labour force: Has the 1990s boom turned to bust?, received significant media coverage for its speculation that, based largely on a very small decrease in cultural employment in 2002, the growth of the cultural sector labour force in the 1990s might have halted after the year 2000.

However, the second report, Culture sector employment, 1991-2003, which updates the data to 2003, appears to show that the 2002 decrease was an aberration in an otherwise strong growth pattern. In fact, the second report notes that “between 1991 and 2003, culture sector employment grew 2.5% annually, compared to 1.7% for the total workforce”. Unfortunately, this report did not receive the same degree of media attention as the first report, leaving many with the impression that the cultural sector may no longer be growing.

Both part-time and full-time culture employment grew faster than the growth in the overall labour force. However, part-time employment grew the most, increasing from 17.8% of cultural employment in 1991 to 22.7% in 2003.

Using an industry-based definition of cultural sector work, Culture sector employment, 1991-2003 shows that there were about 598,000 cultural workers in Canada in 2003. Although the overall estimates of cultural workers are reasonably similar between the industry-based definition (598,000) and the occupation-based definition in the CHRC report (516,000), the two methods capture very different segments of cultural work. The industry-based definition includes all those working in selected industries, no matter what type of occupation they held. This means that the industry-based figure includes all types of workers (including administrative, management and support staff) working in selected arts and cultural industries but excludes, for example, dancers and musicians working in educational services. The occupation-based definition includes selected occupations, no matter where these people worked.

Neither categorization system is a perfect fit for arts activity. Multiple job-holding is common among artists, making any single classification system tricky. In addition, the industry system makes no distinction between for-profit and non-profit activity. The occupation system does not reflect some nuances of arts activity, as many occupation categories cut across artforms and the for-profit / non-profit divide. Readers are strongly encouraged to examine the definitions for categories of particular interest.

The data source for the Statistics Canada reports is the annual Labour Force Survey, which provides timely statistics on Canada’s labour force. However, with a smaller sample size than the census, the Labour Force Survey cannot be broken down into the fine groupings that the census-based reports use to examine cultural work.

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