How many writers are there in metro Washington? For this first try at an answer, let's see how far we can get with publicly available information.
The primary official source of data on American employment is the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program of The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a unit of the Department of Labor (DOL).
Writers fall into occupational group 27-0000, Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media Occupations. Here are the May 2018 data for the Washington metro area for this group.
Let's single out six occupations that are in the ballpark:
CODE / TITLE / EMPLOYMENT
27-3022 Reporters and Correspondents 2,120
27-3031 Public Relations Specialists 22,460
27-3041 Editors 6,260
27-3042 Technical Writers 3,590
27-3043 Writers and Authors 2,230
27-3091 Interpreters and Translators 2,200
Let's call writers the first one (Reporters and Correspondents) plus the fourth and fifth (Technical Writers, Writers and Authors).
This gives us 7,940 writers—in a chattery metro of six million. Can this possibly be right?
For our purposes, the OES report has a problem: it doesn’t include the self-employed. The 7,940 include people like the staff writers at local newspapers and magazines, but they don’t include freelancers or moonlighters or writers who work around a day job, let alone writers who are just starting out. (The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which I’ll return to in a later post, does capture the self-employed—but for what we want it to do it also has its problems.)
For this first try, though, let’s turn now to the other end of the telescope and look at one of those little writer’s groups that meet in cafés and apartments and libraries in cities across in the U.S.
This particular nonfiction critique group meets once a month in the Virginia suburbs. Counting myself, it has six regular members, people who come to almost every meeting:
1 full-time freelance writer, unincorporated
2 full-time freelance writer/editors, unincorporated
1 full-time consultant and writer, incorporated
1 published writer with a day job (lawyer)
1 self-published writer with a day job (analyst)
None of the six are captured in the OES data above. The story is roughly the same for the dozen or so writers who attend once in a while, at least half of whom have published for money. Ditto for the two other local writer’s groups I’ve been a durable part of. And there are dozens of these groups in the DC area.
A first guess at the number of DC-area writers: a lot more than 8,000.
It's easy to see that the official figures underestimate the size of the so-called creative economy. But then it is not easy to say what a writer is. Do you have to be published? Published in what, by whom, for how much?
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I'm a freelance writer and editor who lives in Washington, D.C.