There’s no way to sugarcoat it: for actors, the COVID-19 job losses are stark. New York state, a global epicenter of the performing arts industry, reported that job losses in arts and entertainment are up by 3,880% from last year. With theaters shut down, the sector has one of the highest increases in unemployment claims along with food services, a traditional side-industry for performers.
With the national unemployment rate exploding to 10 million and the potential for it to grow higher than 13% of the United States population, Congress recently pushed partisanship aside and passed the CARES Act. The landmark legislation opens state unemployment insurance to freelancers, sends money to the National Endowment for the Arts, and provides incentives for employers to keep their staff on payroll. The hallmark of the bill is a $1,200 check for Americans earning under $75,000. However, despite the proclamations of lawmakers that the calvary is on its way—many argue that it’s not enough.
“This astronomic rise in arts workers requiring unemployment insurance is a sign that we need further action to protect those losing work as the theatre industry has shut down,” said Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity—the union for stage actors and managers. With the numbers seeing sizable jumps week-by-week, Equity is calling on Congress to pass another relief bill to provide financial support to jobless actors nationwide. “[T]his report from the Department of Labor shows that more must be done to ensure the survival of artists and arts communities.”