How California’s Creative Workforce Is Faring Post-COVID: Report

Jene J. Long

CALIFORNIA —California’s creative industries have bounced back to pre-pandemic levels and then some, according to a recent report from the University of California Riverside School of Business. A recent deep dive into California’s creative economy, studying figures from 2015 to 2021, shows that Digital Publishing has added some of the best-paying jobs to California’s creative marketplace. With creative career opportunities still on the upswing, Digital Publishing could be California’s next economic Gold Rush.

Creative Economic jobs include those in: Architecture, Fashion, Creative Goods and Products (non-fashion-related), Entertainment, Fine Arts (including performing arts) and Media (including Digital Publishing), according to the school of business report. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, creative jobs were “decimated,” a recent report from Women’s World Daily said. California’s fashion industry suffered some of the greatest losses during the coronavirus recession and continues to be in a state of decline. Still, the entertainment and media sectors are staying afloat and even thriving.

The school of Business study “Shock and Roll: California’s Creative Economy from 2015-2021” shows trends in California’s creative job markets before, during, and after the pandemic. Since 2015, the creative economy in California has added 70,064 jobs to the marketplace. By 2019, the creative economy of California was nearing all-time highs. However, the 2020 pandemic ground economic growth to a halt. Riverside researchers say the state appears to be “bouncing back to its 2019 pre-pandemic peak.”

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Even with the economic slowdown of the pandemic, California has added 125,885 jobs in Digital Publishing and media industry, making it the most active creative industry as of 2022.

The number of jobs in the creative workforce have increased by a total of 8 percent since 2015, according to the study, and the wages of creative workers in California —which were “1.8 times the average California worker wage” in 2015 are now 2.35 times higher, the study shows.

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Media wages are still on the rise, a trend that was welcome to the average worker, according to the UCR report.

“In 2021, Media wages per capita were $66,404, their highest level during the period,” the report states.

Non-media services industries, including entertainment, fine arts and architecture, saw lower wages earned during this time, however, no profession was harder hit than fine arts.

California creative economy employment change by major subsector: 2015-2021. (UCR Center for Economic Forecasting)

As expected, creative jobs in the fine arts and performance industries suffered due to “health mandated restrictions on group activity,” according to the study.

Meanwhile, jobs in architecture and related fields remain on the upswing. The big winner in the creative market in California remains jobs in digital publishing.

Ultimately, no sector grew faster over this time than Media.

“It was able to add jobs to the California economy, even as those jobs became better compensated,” the authors wrote.

Patrick Adler, Research Manager at the Center for Economic Forecasting and one of the report’s authors, discussed why California is at the “global epicenter of the creative economy even after the pandemic.”

According to Adler, trends that were “in progress” when the pandemic arrived and changes since showed that “the 2020 disruption” didn’t keep California’s creative economy from making great strides.” Still, it is the “blockbuster growth” in media and digital media, the creative economy would have shrunk by over 55,000 jobs.

Adler said that California’s leaders should be concerned with declines in entertainment and creative manufacturing jobs and “thrilled” with the “long-term prospects for digital publishing jobs in the state.”

The sentiments are mirrored by the Otis College of Art and Design, a school which has studied the creative economy since 2007. Charles Hirschhorn, president of Otis College said: “we are living in extraordinary times.”

Otis College is one of the main institutes in on educating the next generation of creative, from fashion designers to artists, from toy designers to digital animators, according to Hirschhorn.

“We had to reimagine art and design education (during the pandemic),” he said. “Now, the entire world is looking to the creative economy to inspire and reimagine how we all recover and return to our communities and economies after the pandemic.”

The complete analysis is available here. The appendix is available here, on the University of California Riverside website.

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