Santa's pay takes a hit this year

Santa reading a Christmas story to a group of children

This year, there may be less for Santa to 'ho, ho, ho' about. That's because professional Santas, those who work in malls and private events, are expected to make about 8% less in hourly wages than in 2018.

The median hourly wage for those who work as Santa Clause during the holiday season is $37.60 per hour this year, according to PayScale. That's down from the $41 per hour PayScale reported in 2018.

That said, the best Santas — those who are in the top 75th percentile of earners — continue to see their wages increase. Last year, the median hourly pay for the top professionals was about $75, but that jumped to $122 per hour this year. Over a six-week holiday season, the best in the business may take home more than $40,000, according to PayScale.

Source: PayScale

The most popular place to see Santa is still in stores. About one in four mall shoppers will have their children take a photo with Santa, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Santas who score these gigs tend to work 10-hour shifts and connect with about 150 people daily, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of course, the number of mall and department store gigs has shrunk in recent years as many shopping outlets have closed their doors. The decline isn't stopping any time soon. Retailers announced plans to shutter 10,600 stores across the U.S. this year, according to real estate research firm Costar — almost double the 5,400 closed in 2018.

In addition to a shrinking number of retail locations, one of the biggest Santa photography companies, Cherry Hill, consolidated several companies into a single entity over the past couple of years, which has also had an impact, says Stephen Arnold, president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.

"They have sought to control their expenses to achieve better financial results for the some 900 stores to which they supply Santas," he says. Those coordinating placements, for example, now place Santas as close to home as possible to minimize travel expenses and per diems, which has an effect on the net average wages.

For that reason and others, Arnold says a higher percentage of IBRBS members are leaving the mall Santa business and gravitating to the private/corporate Santa appearance business.

"While not as predictable or secure (one of the reasons those who remain with malls) in income, private home visits, corporate events, special events, and public events can offer a much better fee per hour," Arnold says. With these types of gigs, Santas are able to work less and make more. And these types of jobs still allow many to donate time to charitable entities, an activity many members make a priority, Arnold says.

Over the last three years, Arnold says he's actually raised his average hourly appearance fee and now charges a fee for the first 30 minutes, and then charges in 15-minute increments for any subsequent time. His fees average more than four times PayScale's hourly fee estimates.

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What it takes to earn a living as a professional Santa Claus
What it takes to earn a living as a professional Santa Claus