The Social Safety Net Survey Results Are In!

Unemployment insurance, financial assistance and community 
named as key to sustainability during the pandemic.

During these challenging economic times, programs like unemployment insurance, workers comp, healthcare and food assistance programs provide a much needed lifeline to the statewide creative community. Over the summer months, we surveyed the scene to learn more about how creative workers were accessing these benefits (or not).

Here’s a quick summary of what we learned from the survey. (And if you want to do a deep data dive you can check out all the stats here).

Creatives Work Across Creative Sectors

The creative industries in Washington State are a web of intersecting talents. Most respondents indicated that they work in multiple creative disciplines. We always knew that but now we have the data to back it up! Only a third of respondents indicated that they worked in one category. Generally, creatives work in adjacent industries, like motion picture workers often in the theatre, and interestingly, musicians reported working often as graphic designers. Who knew?

Why does it matter? Respondents shared that after unemployment insurance the most helpful resources to sustain their creative career was community and artist solidarity. We need each other more than ever right now. And cross pollinating creative sectors during this time will not only help create more work opportunities, it will also help our health and well being.

Worker Classification

The state classifies freelancers, gig workers or people that are self employed as “non-traditional” workers and 60% of respondents identified as more than one type of classification. For example, 63% of gig workers also identified themselves in the survey as freelancer workers and those who identified as practicing artists / creatives also identified as gig workers or independent contractors.

Why does it matter? Government agencies that administer social safety net programs all have different definitions for each classification of worker and by extension have different ways in which they can (or can not) support creatives.

Unemployment Insurance Important and Hard to Access

Prior to the pandemic, 76% of respondents were employed in some capacity in their creative industry but as of July 1, 70% of respondents’ employment status had changed. UI was the most accessed social safety net service and has proven to be the most helpful resource during the pandemic, but the process to access funds was confusing and funds were often difficult to access.

  • 49% of respondents said their benefits were delayed, rejected, or had repayment demands.
  • 80% of respondents did not feel that the duration of unemployment benefits would cover their needs.

Why does it matter? During the pandemic, it has become clear that the easiest way to access unemployment benefits is by being an employee on payroll. Because 65% of creative workers are non-traditional workers (i.e., freelance, gig workers, self-employed) and not typically put on payroll, the majority of creative workers are having trouble qualifying for this support that for many has been a lifeline when they cannot work due to pandemic restrictions.

Moving Forward

Data is a powerful tool in advocating for change. Our partner organization Whipsmart has already shared the survey information with state agencies and moving forward we will:

  • Work with the community to establish a common language around creative work so that there is a recognized understanding of classification and its implications.
  • Continue to work with state agencies to clarify the classification of creative workers and find ways that creative workers can qualify for social safety net provisions.
  • Encourage statewide community building with intentional engagement of underserved communities.

And thank you to our industry partners who shared the survey with their community:

ArtsWA (the WA State Arts Commission)