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California’s creative economy flexes its muscle

California’s creative economy flexes its muscle

The sector that includes entertainment, media and video games has added 70,064 jobs dating back to 2015, including some in the Inland Empire.  Not even the pandemic slowed it down, and it will probably continue to put more high-paying jobs into the state’s economy, according to several analysts. 



California’s creative economy can stand up and take a bow.

Entertainment, media, fashion and fine arts, to name a few of the creative industries that pump billions of dollars into the state’s economy every year, have outperformed the state’s economy in its recovery from the pandemic, according to a study released this month by the UC Riverside School of Business Center for E Economic Forecasting and Development.

Shock and Roll: California’s Creative Economy from 2015-2021, examines trends in the state’s creative industries before, during and after the recession caused by COVID-19, which hit the United States in March 2020

The 22-page report found that the creative sectors of the California economy  – specifically defined as architecture, fashion, creative goods, entertainment and media/digital publishing  – has added 70,064 jobs since 2015 and is likely moving back to where it was in 2019.

In 2015, the total number of workers in California’s creative industries was slightly below one million, or about six percent of the state’s workforce. That number peaked in 2019 at 1,087,087, dropped in 2020 but bounced back slightly to 1,050,357 workers last year, according to the report.

“It’s a small segment of California’s economy, but it’s still very important and it’s growing,” said Patrick Adler, research manager at the center for economic forecasting and a co-author of the report. “Digital publishing is becoming a bigger and bigger part of what we call the creative economy.”

Additionally, the creative economy workforce in California grew eight percent during the six years covered in the report, much faster than then state’s workforce grew during that time.

Wage growth has performed even better. The average employee in the state’s creative economy has seen his or her wages increase 40 percent since 2015, a number the report calls “spectacular.”

Workers in California’s creative economy were doing well before the pandemic: in 2015: their wages were nearly two percent higher than the average California worker’s wage.

After that, things got even better. By last year, the average working wage in the creative economy was 2.35 percent higher.

“Indeed, creative economy wages started higher and accelerated during the pandemic, even outstripping today’s historic inflation,”the report states.

Media, which includes digital publishing, is the report’s standout sector. Sometimes called online or electronic publishing, digital publishing is the distribution of various online content, including magazines, journals, video games, mobile apps and eBooks, according

Currently, media accounts for 31.2 percent of all creative economy jobs in California and the wages paid in the creative economy. Digital publishing industries have added 125,885 jobs since 2015, including 12,216 jobs during the peak of the pandemic, according to the report.

Although California’s creative economy may be a relatively small part of the state’s economy, the creative economies carries weight because it contains so many high-paying jobs, said Robert Kleinhenz, principal economist with Kleinhenz Economics in Long Beach, a consulting firm he started three years ago.

“Some parts of the creative economy – like the fashion industry – you have in California and New York but you don’t really find much of it in other parts of the country,” said Kleinhenz, who researched and wrote about Southern California’s creative economy when he worked for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation and Beacon Economics in Los Angeles. “It can be difficult to define exactly, but everyone agrees that it helps produce goods, income and economic activity.”

Digital publishing has been growing steadily in California during the last 10 years or so, with much of if happening in the lower half of the state, according to Kleinhenz.

“Silicon Valley gets all of the publicity, but digital publishing keeps growing and Southern California, including the Inland Empire, is getting its share of it,” Kleinhenz said.

The Inland region added 623 digital publishing jobs between 2015 and 2021, raising the number of jobs in that sector from 489 to 1,112, Adler said.

Three hundred and twenty five of those jobs were added during the pandemic.

As for 2015 to 2021, the two-county region grew its overall creative economy by 556 jobs, but there was was a disparity between the two counties: Riverside County added 1,147 jobs while San Bernardino County lost 591 jobs, for a net gain of 556 jobs.

In 2021, Riverside and San Bernardino counties accounted for 1.2 percent and and 1.4 percent of California’s creative economy jobs, with each taking in about 0.4 percent of the wages created by that sector, according to the report.

Because so many people stayed indoors during the pandemic, and many of them spent a lot of time online, it’s not surprising that digital publishing increased during that time.

“It’s an impressive number and it’s going to keep going up,” Kleinhenz said. “Digital publishing is on a big upward trend.”


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