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Performance Anxieties: Real Actors' Salaries and Where They Earn The Most Money

Updated on December 22, 2011

© Copyright 2011 by Aurelio Locsin.

Actors, whether on stage, TV or movies, are supposed to lead glamorous lives and make millions of dollars for taking us to different emotional and artistic places. And yet, their income is so irregular that the U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t even list annual salaries for them. Still, some employers and locations are better than others for these artistic professionals.


The 54,740 actors in the country average $28.44 per hour, with the lowest 10 percent earning $8.58 per hour and the highest 10 percent getting $64.04 per hour.

  • Almost 30 percent work for accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services, where they earn means of $24.52 per hour.
  • Second for jobs are performing arts companies, where 16 percent of the total get $20.96 per hour.
  • Ranking third for employment are independent artists, writers and performers. The 7 percent here earn a mean $43.16 per hour.

In terms of highest paying industries:

  • Number one goes to advertising, public relations and related services at a mean $49.81 per hour.
  • Number two are other professional, scientific and technical services at a mean $48.86 per hour.
  • Independent artists, writers and performers rank third.


The state with the most jobs for actors is New York, where 13 percent get a mean $26.95 per hour.

  • Number two for employment is Louisiana, with over 1 percent of the jobs at a mean $10.62 per hour.
  • In third place is Missouri, where closer to 1 percent make $17.96 per hour.

The top paying states for the profession have high populations.

  • California, the most populous state, has salaries at $39.94 per hour.
  • New York is next,
  • Nevada is third at a mean $26.68 per hour for less than 1 percent of all jobs.


The cities with the most jobs for actors also have high populations.

  • Number one, with the second largest general population in the country, is Los Angeles, where over 31 percent get a mean $40.01 per hour.
  • Number two, with the biggest general population, is New York City, with 10 percent of the jobs at a mean $27.35 per hour.
  • Dallas is number three with just over three percent of jobs averaging $25.01 per hour.

As for the best paying cities, the top three are located in California.

  • Number one is Oakland, with rates at a mean $72.43 per hour.
  • Second is San Diego at a mean $43.15.
  • Los Angeles ranks third.


The non-metropolitan regions with the best employment for actors is Southwest Missouri, where 200 make $16.08 per hour.

  • Central New York State is next with 80 jobs earning $13.64 per hour.
  • Third is Eastern Tennessee, where 80 professionals get a mean $14.77 per hour.

The best rural area for wages is the Hawaii non-metropolitan with pay at $40 per hour.

  • Number two is Southwest Missouri at a mean $16.08 per hour.
  • Ranking third is Eastern Tennessee.


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    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 

      4 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      I must try acting, too. Well, almost way back my teenage years as I played a bida-contravida (star villain) in a local drama in television here in Bicol, Philippines. It only paid me $15.00 (P500.00 Philippine peso) for the whole drama, way back 1992.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      5 years ago from USA

      Interesting! I'm most fascinated by your figures for the various locations. For decades, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and had no idea that Oakland was the best paying city for actors. That's what I enjoy about your hubs. When I'm done reading them I am very enlightened.

    • lifetips123 profile image

      Praveen P.V. Nair 

      6 years ago from Trivandrum

      nice bro, your hubs are always having great quality and so i voted up and awesome :)

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Interesting. I wouldn't have thought of Missouri as a place to go as an actor. How do these accounting firms, tax preparation firms, etc., use actors?

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      You'll get no argument from me, aaactor, at least as far as income is concerned. That's why the article states up front that even the Department of Labor considers actor income so irregular that it cannot state a yearly average.

      As a sometime theater actor myself, I know that the payments are pittance. I know of only a handful of actors who do it full-time, and that's only because I live near Hollywood, and they can earn a living from commercials, movies and TV. Most of the performers I know, including myself, have other jobs. But then again, most of us don't do acting for the money but for love.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is somewhat deceptive because it lists actor's pay as per hour. Most of an actor's time is spent actually looking for work ... which pays absolutely nothing. The actual working hours might average 10 hrs/month for the lucky few who get work ... unless the actors are working as background actors. Then, it is closer to $15.00/hr for union actors and $5.00/hr for non-union actors. If you break it down to per hour for acting jobs and include time for job search and training, it would amount to mere cents/hr. Most actors do not make enough to move beyond the poverty line. That's why most have 2nd jobs waiting tables or at temp agencies. 90% of actors do not make a living as actors. 10% of actors make 90% of the total pay for all actors. It is a tough road even for the most talented and business savvy.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Interesting; thank you for sharing this information. Should be useful for anyone pursuing a career in the dramatic arts. Considering the diversity in acting careers, from an international movie star, to a local community theater actor, I suppose it's not surprising to see such a range in pay.


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