It’s already hard enough for artists in Canada to make a decent living and it’s not getting any better. In fact, the latest statistical analysis shows artists are getting poorer.

Kelly Hill of Hill Strategies Research, a company that analyzes artist earnings and trends, said real income declined from 2001 to 2006, the latest data period provided by Census Canada.

The 2001 census showed artists earned an average of $26,300, but that figure dropped to $22,700 by 2006, a 14 per cent decrease in earnings when adjusted for inflation. By contrast, the overall labour force saw a modest two per cent increase in the same period.

“That was a surprising and fairly depressing statistic. We knew from the 2001 census work that we did that artists’ earnings were low but ... seeing them go down from even that low level is quite disappointing,” Hill said.

Hill said that figure becomes even more alarming when one realizes that in 2006, working artists — 140,000 across Canada — outnumbered the 135,000 Canadians directly employed in the auto sector.

Overall, the latest research shows there are 609,000 cultural workers in Canada: about 3.3 per cent of the total workforce; double the level of workers in the forestry sector at 300,000 and more than double the banking sector at 257,000.

“That’s substantial and it’ll surprise a lot of people,” Hill said.

At the same time, Hill said — and as a recent Toronto Star series on the lives of Canadian artists demonstrated — those who choose to follow their artistic muse face significant hurdles compared to others in the labour force. For example, artists, many of whom are self-employed, rarely qualify for employment insurance, and their ability to contribute to pension plans for a secure retirement is also limited, Hill said.

Hill said it’s time for governments to wake up to the significant role artists and culture play in Canada's economy and to provide incentives for them to survive.

“I do believe that (artists) are a dynamic and growing component of the labour force and it does need to be nurtured,” he said.