Pay in Massage Therapy: What’s for Real?

I just finished reading AMTA’s 2011 Massage Profession Research Report. It’s 66 pages of information that was created from several surveys conducted by AMTA and supplemented by government statistics.

The report covers many topics, including consumer demographics, information about massage schools and their students, where massage is fitting into the general scheme of health care in the US, and statistics on the practitioners themselves.

According to AMTA’s report, during 2010 the average massage therapist worked slightly less than 20 hours per week and made $41.00 per hour including gratuities. That was down from 2009, when the average therapist reportedly worked 20.4 hours per week and made 44.90.

In looking around for verification and figures to compare these to, I checked out the Massage Metrics by ABMP, and also referred to the AMA Health Care Careers Directory for 2009-2010 and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS has faulty statistics as far as I’m concerned, because they are based on a therapist working 40-hour weeks year round, which is usually not the case. Their formula shows the median pay to be $16.78 per hour. Many therapists only work part-time, sometimes keeping other jobs that provide them with needed benefits. The AMA publication cites therapists who do more like 15 hours of massage per week and make between $15,000-30,000.

I also conducted an informal survey recently of the 1200+ massage therapists who are on my Facebook page. I asked how much money self-employed therapists charge for massage, and asked for their location, and was not surprised to see how much variance there is from place to place. I got everything from $35 in rural areas to $120 in some of the bigger cities. However, you have to remember that’s the gross, and doesn’t take into account that the self-employed have overhead that can really cut into that. By the time one pays for space, advertising, telephone, utilities, laundry, and supplies, actual take-home income is probably half that, if not less.

As far as those who work for someone else, I personally know of a licensed massage therapist who makes less than $9.00 an hour working for a chiropractor. Another acquaintance who works in a ritzy day spa in Cape Cod during the summer makes as much as $2000 a week in take-home pay, but when she’s in North Carolina in the wintertime, has worked in day spas here for as little as $12 an hour plus tips. My own staff members are paid between $30-45 an hour depending on the work they do and how long they’ve been here, and I constantly hear from therapists who work elsewhere that I am the best-paying employer in our small town.

I believe all the above organizations did the best they could in compiling these reports. I also think they are all somewhat skewed (and in fairness, AMTA does quote a 3% + or – confidence level) by several things. No survey can possibly take in every massage therapist in the US. There are still unregulated states, and any therapist who isn’t a member of a professional organization or unrecognized by a licensing or certification board isn’t going to be included in any surveys. And people tend not to answer surveys; according to www.quora.com, a statistics site, a 3% return is about average on e-mail market studies. 10% is magnanimous. According to the laws of statistics, you can get an accurate sample from a little as a 1% response rate, but I think most of us have a hard time thinking that what happens with 1% applies to the rest of us.

When it comes to pay in massage therapy, what’s for real? It’s hard to say.

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