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Who is counting museum unemployment?

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

According to today’s report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of non-agricultural workers continued to decline in June 2009 (down by 467,000 people), though the unemployment rate was little changed at 9.5 percent. Job losses were widespread across the major industry sectors, with especially large declines occurring in manufacturing, professional and business services, and construction. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed persons in the U.S. has increased by 7.2 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 4.6 percentage points. At first, the numbers for museums and related institutions (“historical sites, zoos, and parks”) look much more encouraging, with an employment gain of 4.2% since May 2009 — but most of this reflects the hiring of seasonal employees. Overall, BLS says that museum employment is down by 0.8% since June 2008 and virtually unchanged since June 2007. However, the Current Employment Statistics survey from BLS fails to account for many of the nation’s museum workers (at least a half, by AAM’s estimate, for example, many of them at government museums); as a result, the anecdotal accounts of museum layoffs around the country don’t seem to be reflected in these aggregate numbers.

–Philip Katz, Assistant Director, Research
American Association of Museums

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