The Creative Class Is Alive

A brief rebuttal to Scott Timberg's recent essay

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Video editor at NYC non-profit, New Tang Dynasty Television, which seeks to bypass censors and inform Chinese citizens. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Something like how video purportedly killed the radio star, the Internet and the economic crisis is murdering the creative class today, according to a provocative essay in Salon by Scott Timberg. “This creative class was supposed to be the new engine of the United States economy, post-industrial age, and as the educated, laptop-wielding cohort grew, the U.S. was going to grow with it,” he writes. “But for those who deal with ideas, culture and creativity at street level -- the working- or middle-classes within the creative class -- things are less cheery. Book editors, journalists, video store clerks, musicians, novelists without tenure -- they're among the many groups struggling through the dreary combination of economic slump and Internet reset. The creative class is melting, and the story is largely untold,” he adds. “The Creative Class Is Evaporating” is the way our sister site, The Atlantic Wire, summed it up.

Kudos to Timberg and Salon for focusing attention on the plight of struggling artists, musicians, and writers during this devastating economic crisis. I welcome Salon’s coverage of this critical issue and very much look forward to reading the rest of the series. But in focusing on such disparate events as the closing of chains like Borders and Tower Records, the decline of independent record stores and book shops, and the mass layoffs at print newspapers, he misses the forest for the proverbial trees.

As bad as the overall economic situation may be, the creative class has in fact gotten off comparatively lightly. The creative class added nearly three million jobs between 2001 through 2010, growing jobs at a seven percent clip. And the sub-group of the creative class that spans arts and media grew at nearly double that rate (13.8 percent) over the same period. Average creative class wages increased by more than a third (34.5 percent), from $52,707 to $70,890, over this decade—more than any other major occupational group—and wages for arts and media creatives rose by 31.5 percent. To Timberg’s point, that these gains were not shared equally across the creative class: there were indeed winners and losers. The biggest job losses occurred among “news analysts, reporters, and correspondents” (a category that lost 15,130 jobs, a substantial 22.9 percent decline), musicians and singers (8,830 jobs lost, down 16.9 percent), photographers (10,810 jobs lost, down 16.5 percent) and editors (5,050 jobs lost, down 4.9 percent). But other segments of the creative class experienced substantial job growth. Jobs for producers and directors went up by nearly 80 percent (36,770 new jobs); art director jobs grew by 45 percent; nearly 60,000 new jobs opened up for graphic designers (up 45 percent); and audio and video equipment technician jobs increased by roughly 40 percent. But these changes pale in comparison to the decimation of the working class – spanning manufacturing, construction and transportation – which lost a staggering 6.2 million jobs.

All workers and all classes of work were hit by the economic meltdown. The creative class lost slightly less than three quarters of a million jobs during 2008-2010, the height of the economic crisis, less than two percent of all its jobs. Arts and media jobs declined at a higher rate, 4.9 percent, shedding 88,300 jobs. But this pales next to the destruction of more than two million service jobs and 5.3 million blue collar jobs, one in six jobs in that sector. In the first half of 2009, when national unemployment was at 8.7 percent, creative class unemployment was about half that level (4.4 percent) and just a third of the 15.2 percent rate faced by blue collar workers. Interestingly enough, creative class workers who had jobs actually saw their wages grow by 4.4 percent during the crisis, while the wages of arts and media workers grew by 3.2 percent. At the same time, blue collar workers faced the double whammy of massive job destruction and falling wages (which declined by 4.7 percent).

The decade-long decline of certain segments of the creative class seems to have slowed and been at least partly mitigated since the crisis. Two of the hardest hit segments, news media and musicians, lost considerably more jobs before the crisis (between 2001and 2008) than since (2008 through 2010). And only one of the many subgroups of the creative class in general and of arts and media workers in particular – reporters and correspondents – saw their wages decline during the crisis, and that decline was less than one percent, from $44,030 in 2008 to $43,780 in 2010. Not to mention that creative class workers, even in the hardest hit fields, have the skills, education and human capital that allows them to switch jobs, fields and careers when required, an option that is largely unavailable to blue-collar workers.

The past decade was a lost one according to economists like Paul Krugman and Michael Mandel, and the next may well be the same. And the effects of the economic crisis and broader economic transformation will continue to fall more heavily on some groups, classes, and communities than others. In fact, blue collar jobs are projected to decline by another 1.2 million over the next five or six years, while the creative class is expected to add another 6.8 million new jobs, with employment in arts, design, and media rising by 12 percent, according to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics covering the period 2008 to 2018. While some parts of the creative class have fared better than others, people who work with their heads haven’t suffered nearly as much as those who work with their hands.

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here