Framebuilder Survey Analysis: Livelihood Part II

Picking back up on analyzing builder livelihoods, let’s delve more into incomes, both from framebuilding and within the household more broadly.

Quick reminder as a bridge from last post: right now we are talking about all of the builders in my sample. About 44% of those builders do not identify as being “full time” builders…though nearly all of them (93%) see themselves as being “professional”.

Let’s first look at income from framebuilding alone:

What is your typical recent annual income from the framebuilding business?

  • 78 responses
  • Mean: $24,115
  • Median: $16,500
  • Mode: $0

The big differences across mean, median and mode (which, just to emphasize, does show that the most common answer to this question was $0!) indicate a relatively skewed distribution, which becomes evident when you look at that full distribution:

Figure-Income All Builders

Do you engage in other work for income apart from framebuilding? (not including spousal/partner income)

  • 70% of builders engage in other work:
    • 16% of builders do other work for less than than they make from framebuilding
    • 54% of builders engage in other work for more

Clearly the question of outside work is going to be influenced by whether the builder is pursuing the trade full time or not. While I’m saving more detailed analysis of “full time” builders as a distinct group until later, one point of clarification for now: even of those builders who report doing framebuilding “full time”, a small majority (54%) also report doing some outside work (be it for more or less than the framebuilding)!

Taken together, this all implies that framebuilding as an occupation remains quite flexible and fits with a comparatively non-traditional “career” trajectory. When even those who consider themselves full-time practitioners are at least doing some other paid work, you have a field in which the dominant model is one of multiple income streams.

So what about other income flows into the household?

Many builders are married or in partnerships, so perhaps the household is the more relevant level of analysis.

Does your spouse or partner work in the framebuilding business?

Of those who responded to the question (some were missing compared with the original “are you married?” question):

  • 4% of builders have a spouse who works full-time in the framebuilding business
  • 14% of builders have a spouse who works part-time in that business.

What about other work within the household, beyond the framebuilding business?

If you are married or in a domestic/life partnership, does your spouse/partner work in a different line of work?

  • Yes – full time 53%
  • Yes – part time/informally 18%
  • No 9%
  • Not married 20%

Thus, the majority of all builders (~70%) have a spouse or partner with income from full or part-time work. I first report this for all builders here because this can help situate framebuilding as a whole – that is, to help us understand how much of framebuilding as a whole is embedded within a multi-income household context.

A different way of coming at this is to focus only on those who are married/partnered. Of those builders who are married/partnered:

  • Partner working full time: 67%
  • Partner working part time: 22%
  • Partner not working: 11%

There is also a bit of complexity in spouse/partner work patterns that can be hidden in these two sets of figures, although these categories are comprised of very few people total (so few, in fact, that I’m not listing the numbers in case they could lead to the identification of those people!).

  • Of those spouses/partners working full time in the framebuilding business, 50% also hold down another full-time job, and 25% have a part-time job.
  • Of those spouses/partners working part time in the framebuilding business, 57% also hold down another full-time job, and 29% have a part-time job.

All together, we can say that:

  1. Most (~90%) married/partnered framebuilders have a spouse working outside of that framebuilding business in some capacity.
  2. Not all that many spouses/partners work at all in the framebuilding business – and most that do so are doing so part-time.
  3. Looking at those spouses or partners who do work in some capacity in the framebuilding business, only 17% report not working elsewhere. Presumably, these are the ones who find the framebuilding income is sufficient for the household in total.

How much are these working partners earning?

How much does your spouse/partner earn in comparison to the framebuilding business in a typical year?

  • More than the framebuilding business: 54%
  • About the same: 8%
  • Less: 17%
  • Not married/partnered: 21%

What this means, in plainer English, is that about 62% of all builders have an additional source of income at the household level that equals or exceeds the framebuilding income. Of course, when we see “framebuilding income”, that doesn’t necessarily mean a great deal of money in an absolute sense! If, from above, the median builder is bringing in about $16k a year, and the mean builder is at $24k, it doesn’t take all that much for a partner to be bringing in more money!

A different way of thinking about it is that, for builders with a partner with a job, 78% of those partners make more than the builder.

Rather than just looking at these income sources within the household, we can also see how builders themselves view the situation.

To that end, I asked:

Does the income generated by your framebuilding business currently sustain what you consider to be a reasonable/comfortable livelihood without outside income from other work or from a spouse/partner?

  • Yes: 20%
  • No: 80%

Seems like a dramatically low proportion of builders aren’t making enough from framebuilding to support a household. But….we also might wonder whether this is actually their goal with the framebuilding!

So I also asked:

Is it a goal of yours for the framebuilding business to sustain a reasonable/comfortable livelihood without outside income from other work or from a spouse/partner?

  • Yes, it is a goal: 48%
  • No, not a goal: 33%
  • It already does provide a livelihood: 19%

This tempers the results from the last question, in that a number of those builders who aren’t making a living aren’t even intending to do so.

We can see this more clearly in the intersection between these two variables.

What about the builders not making a living who want to?

Of the builders who report not making a sufficient livelihood from framebuilding, a majority 60% would like to be making a living…but a pretty sizable minority (40%) aren’t pursuing the goal. [Sidebar to that: two builders actually report making a sufficient living, even though it isn’t a goal of theirs!]

Another attempt I made at evaluating a builder’s life, livelihood and business goals was the following:

If you could make a reasonable living doing so, would you prefer to work for a larger firm and be paid a salary for doing this same work?

As I saw it, this question measured the degree to which a builder was pursuing the work itself as a goal (meaning the fabrication dimensions of the job) rather than a larger/more holistic “lifestyle” of business ownership, promotion and branding, etc.

Based on what I’ve heard in builder interviews over the years, the results weren’t particularly surprising to me, with the majority of builders not interested or unsure:

  • Yes: 8%
  • Unsure: 21%
  • No: 61%
  • 10.5% responded “Other” and included an open-ended response that will be incorporated in other qualitative analyses of livelihood

Hypothetical questions like this are difficult, in part because very few positions that we would think of as “framebuilding” actually exist in the U.S. these days – maybe just at the dozen or so mid-size, standardized-production oriented shops that remain. As such, perhaps many builders didn’t understand the thrust of the question. My interpretation of this is that most framebuilders – even if they are struggling to make a living in the trade – are not interested in being “just” an employee and giving up on the autonomy and control that comes from the “one person shop” model.

Up next: similar analyses on livelihood, but for those builders who identify as being “full time”!

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