How Much Money Do Beggars and Street Performers Make?

Every day on my drive home from graduate school, I get on the local bypass for a few miles and then take the exit to where I live. If it is during rush-hour, there is inevitably a 5 minute wait at the light because the traffic gets backed up from the ~40,000 University employees heading home for the day.

At the very bottom of the off-ramp, gaining a stadium-seating viewing from the 70 cars waiting at the stoplight, is almost always someone begging for money. “Anything helps, gets cold at night, God Bless,” or “US Army Veteran, anything helps,” their signs read.

Personally, I have only witnessed cars at the stoplight giving money to the beggar on 1-2 occasions, so pretty rare considering that I go by there every day. However, this got me thinking – just how much do people requesting money on the street or performing on walking malls make? Is it not much money at all, or is it something pretty high, like $30 per hour?

Ideally, if I had more guts, prior to writing this post I would have personally posed as a beggar and been able to provide some first hand account knowledge. However, I decided against doing that, so we’ll just have to go with what I could find online and from other people’s experiences.

 

How Much Money Do Beggars / Panhandlers Make?

First, let’s take a look at what I could find about a consensus for how much beggars can make:

  • A 2013 South African study found that beggars could make the equivalent of $18 per day begging in South Africa.
  • A 2008 report stated that some Oregon beggars outside a Wal Mart make $100k per year / $300 per day.
  • A beggar in Oklahoma City, OK makes $60k per year, or $30 per hour average.
  • An actual homeless person who runs a Blogspot blog stated that he makes between $15-$30 per hour, but it is usually closer to $15 per hour on average. In addition, he mentions that it is very un-steady income, meaning that sometimes, he can beg all day and only make $60.
  • Another article reported that they talked to several local beggars who said they would make the equivalent of $13 per hour.

As we might expect, there is obviously a lot of variability in to how much one can make begging. If you were highly manipulative, intelligent, and simply posing as a beggar, you could likely figure out a way to optimize your facade and make a ton of money. However, this would come at a cost of your dignity and morality.

Overall, I would say that a reasonable estimate for how much can be made in begging / panhandling is $15 per hour, which is about $30,000 per year and more than graduate students in my engineering department make.

 

How Much Do People Make as Street Performers / Busking?

Now, let’s move on to a related topic – seeking a general feel for how much street performers make. We’ve all seen these folks before – whether they are people dressed up on Times Square who take pictures with tourists for tips, to magicians, to people singing and playing musical instruments.

When it comes to street performing, I do have a little bit of personal insight in to how much can be made. One of my friends said he has played a musical instrument on the local pedestrian mall and made about $30 in 45 minutes. That’s pretty good if you ask me!

Listed below are some other related reported figures I could find:

  • In Vegas, some of the street performers dressed up like Gene Simmons and a Storm Trooper make the hourly equivalent of  between $60,000 – $200,000. Quite impressive!
  • Another article reported that street musicians earn between $30-$40 per hour.

Unlike begging, street performing seems like it is more lucrative and likely less mentally degrading. From the figures above, it seems to be realistic to make $30 per hour doing this if you are committed to it. However, I can imagine that the income is very unpredictable, and likely can be frustrating.

How about you all? Do you see many beggars and/or street performers in your area? If so, how much money do you think they make? Is it close to the figures mentioned in this article?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/kulmalukko/5397742256/sizes/m

Comments

  1. Oh, such a nice topic.
    In my country the wages are pretty small. Let’s say many Romanians make 400-500 dollars/month and consider themselves lucky (others make maybe 250). And yet most of these hard-working people would give money to beggars, since we’re Christians, aren’t we, and God likes seeing us take care of other men.

    The nice thing is that once in a while someone gets more details about the ‘business’ (because it is a business). Either the beggar (if he’s working ‘alone’) makes 1-2K dollars/month (way more than many Romanians in half an year) or he’s just a ‘pawn’ in a bigger ‘mob’ scheme, where others are collecting quite some money.

    All while the hard-working people have jobs which are paying crappy wages, and our ‘wonderful’ State is also robbing them blind with huge taxes (and 24% VAT on anything other than bread).

    So yes, please help the poor guy on the street. They have expenses too 😀
    dojo recently posted…Personal finance things my grandma taught meMy Profile

  2. When I was in New Orleans, a bartender told us that the good street performers there can usually make around $1,000 a day for just a couple of hours. She even said that she saw her favorite street performer being tipped $500 just from one person!
    Michelle recently posted…I’m 100% Self-Employed – My Plans For the FutureMy Profile

  3. Reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Man With the Twisted Lip. The man in question found he could make a lot more money as a hideous beggar than as an accountant in London. I have no idea of what beggars and street performers make here, but there are quite a few in the area. We almost always tip the musician street performer a dollar at the weekly farmer’s market. I bet they probably make $50/hour those days. Our son is getting pretty good on the tenor sax, so I guess he will always have something to fall back on if his eventual career doesn’t work out. (He’s only 12 years old now.)
    Bryce @ Save and Conquer recently posted…Comparing College Costs and Graduation RatesMy Profile

  4. I have often wondered how lucrative this could be when I’ve seen people begging with their signs in different locations. Although your numbers show it can be lucrative, I can’t imagine the stigma attached to it, but who cares if you are being demeaned if you are making that kind of money. Far more than the average Joe working a full-time job in some cases.
    Kostas @ Finance Zone recently posted…Credit Card Skimming And How You Can Protect YourselfMy Profile

  5. That’s it. I’m going to be a be a beggar. I would become a street performer but don’t really have any performance skills. There are some homeless people and performers in Vancouver here, but I doubt they make more than $10/hr because I hardly see anyone giving them money. Real estate is so important in this trade that only some are able to beg or perform in the rare areas of the city with high foot traffic, which in Canada, becomes really important 🙂
    Liquid recently posted…Google the Tech GiantMy Profile

  6. In Manila, the capital city of the Philippines I saw lots of beggars and street performers. One of the popular TV shows featured the couple blind street performers because of their amazing voices.
    Clarrise @ Make Money Your Way recently posted…Cheap DIY Halloween costumes: How to Make Fairy Wings, Wand and CrownMy Profile

  7. A couple of thoughts on street performers: I imagine the degree of talent possessed by the performer would affect the pay rate, and although the rate/hr has been calculated, It seems to me that it most likely wouldn’t be based on an 8 hour work day. I could be wrong, since my talents lie elsewhere, just a thought.
    I generally do not give beggars money. Sandwiches, or ice cold water on a killer hot day, yes. I’m very practical that way. And I only make $16/hr.

  8. Never thought about how much beggars and street performers net. If those figures are correct then it’s mind boggling!!! They surely don’t pay taxes on any of that too! I regularly see beggars and street performers all the time. I always feel bad when someone asks me for money and I don’t give them anything. I give food if I have it but not money.
    Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen recently posted…The Four Seasons of MoneyMy Profile

  9. I have performed three times doing literary recitation. I was on the street for two hours each time. I made $2 each time or $1 per hour.

  10. smokin stormtrooper says:

    I am.a street performer in las Vegas and work in multiple locations around the strip and downtown..I have multiple clean professional costumes and I can tell u from experience that very few of us actually make a living of this…true there are days when u can make upwards of $50 an hour but they are far n few between…id say on the average u can hope to make $20 an hour during peak hours which is only 3-4 hours a day…I change my hours to follow traffic patterns and the weather….each.day I go out I am hoping to come home with 100. Sometimes I hit the mark but usually am settling for less…when u make good money and go home with a smile and a pocket full of cash u still wonder if its worth the harassment and abuse you receive from drunks, college kids, tourists and people that work too hard for too little. The only ones I see that have it easy are the young pretty show girls….no one ever seems to get into it with them but they occasionally have to deal with creeps that try to touch or grab them in an improper manner…all in all; its not for everyone…gotta have a thick skin and a cool temper if u dont want to end up in jail or in a fist fight.

  11. Katharine says:

    I’m an entry-level engineer who started playing music on the street for fun on weekends. As an engineer, I make $22.50 an hour, but as a street musician I can make $30-$60.00 an hour. I can only play about 3 hours before I get tired, and although extra money is nice, I really only play to have fun and meet other musicians. I find it quite interesting that in those 3 hours of playing music, I sometimes make the same wage as a full day’s work as an engineer…. Each day is different–I make the most on Friday and Saturday, and the least on Sunday. I still prefer my engineering job, though. Music is just for fun.

  12. Fernandos says:

    Michelle I know the street performers that you are referring to, The Grand Dragon Showcase. But, they are the exception to the rule. First off the had to go before tb e city council here to be granted permission to perform there. They had their own show in Vagas and performed with a circus troop. So, they are truly professional performers.

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