In May 2023, the Writers Guild of America launched a strike due to persistent labor disputes in the motion picture industry, which was subsequently followed by a strike by the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union in July 2023.
But how have labor conditions changed for actors and writers, and how do union members in the film industry benefit compared to nonunion workers?
As of May 2022, actors in the US film industry received a median hourly wage of $16.70, while writers and authors received more than triple that at $62.38 median hourly pay.
Actors have seen their median wages fall by 56% since 2013 after adjusting for inflation. Wages dropped for other entertainers and performers as well, though not as steeply, with median wages dropping by 7%.
Hours worked per week also fluctuate in the film industry, averaging 28.6 hours per week across all positions in the industry between 1990 and 2022.
Weekly work hours dropped by 11.5% between 2021 and 2022. This could potentially be explained by external factors, such as the industry rehiring part-time workers let go during the pandemic, or workers choosing to work fewer hours, among other explanations.
The motion picture and sound recording industry employed approximately 437,680 people as of May 2022, with total industry employment growing by 17% over the last decade.
Those employed in arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations make up 47.1% of all workers in the industry. This includes actors, writers, producers, directors, and other entertainment and production careers. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the state of employment for several common positions in the film industry:
The median hourly wage for all private sector employees in July 2022 was $32.33, while the median hourly wage for motion picture and sound recording industry employees was slightly lower at $29.65 in May 2022.
This includes total value-added revenues generated by the industry, including ticket sales and distribution rights, which vary by company and aren’t explicitly recorded by government sources.
In 2021, the industry spent approximately $38.7 billion on wages and salaries for all employees and had a GDP of $95.1 billion, though this GDP is lower than the industry average due to the pandemic.
Between 2012 and 2021, approximately 34% of the GDP created by the film industry came from employee wages and salaries.
For comparison, the proportion of employee wages and salaries to GDP across all private industries in 2019 was about 42%.
In 2022, 17.3% of film industry workers were union members, the highest rate in at least 22 years. The BLS estimated that 10.1% of full-time workers nationwide were union members in 2022.
People represented by unions in the film industry make more money than nonunion members. In 2022, union members had median weekly earnings of $2,276 compared to $1,300 for nonunion members, a $976 dollar difference.
Most motion picture industry professions have some form of union representation, some of which require union membership to find work.
However, in every state, unions are legally obligated to represent all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, regardless of their union membership status. Through this, nonunion members benefit from a union presence by raising certain industry standards, such as pay, benefits, and safety regulations.
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to the film industry as the motion picture and sound recording industries as an entity under the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
This is measured through value added, which is the difference between gross output and intermediate inputs and represents the value of labor and capital used in producing gross output.
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