Everyone knows the urban legend of the old bag lady who died in the street as an anonymous panhandler, only to leave millions to some unsuspecting friend. Even if it happens, is that normal or even common? Researchers have devoted some effort to determining what panhandlers actually earn. Suffice to say, it's hard work. Annual income in a 2002 survey worked out to about $3,600 per year.
About $30 Per Day
In 2001, researchers in Toronto interviewed panhandlers to determine how much they earned. On average, beggars reported earning about $8 per hour, but about $30 per day, an indication that panhandling wasn't lucrative at all times of the day. About half of panhandlers made more than $300 per month panhandling, and half made less. Most had casual labor, bringing median earnings for panhandlers to about $638.
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Confirming Accuracy of Research Reports
The researches in the Toronto study devised a pretty clever way of gauging the accuracy of the earnings that panhandlers reported. The academics offered to compensate the panhandlers for their time in taking the 90-question, 20-minute survey. Sometimes they offered $1 and sometimes they offered $10. The amount offered differed each time, and researchers would not bargain over the amount. Some declined to take the survey because they weren't offered enough money. Since the panhandlers were not allowed to beg while taking the survey, the amounts that panhandlers accepted or declined from researchers gave the surveyors a crude validation of their responses. After all, a panhandler making $30 per hour isn't going to take a 20-minute survey for $1.
A 2007 study of panhandlers in Las Vegas produced results similar to those in Toronto and showed that respondents earned about $8 per hour. The median monthly income from panhandling was $192 among the 107 respondents and 75 percent of panhandlers made less than $400 per month. The typical donation was $1.
Time Spent and Demographics
The Las Vegas study found that just 19 percent of homeless people panhandle and that 81 percent of panhandlers were homeless. The average panhandler spent about 17 days per month panhandling. Nearly 30 percent panhandled more than 26 days per month. About half of the respondents panhandled for less than four hours per day, but 21 percent panhandled for more than eight hours per day.