Report: California Strikes Resulted in an 8 Percent Decline in People Working in the Creative Industry

For decades, Los Angeles has been the powerhouse behind California’s creative economy with its expansive movie studios, TV production facilities, architectural firms and fashion companies that account for one in 10 jobs in the state.

But California’s creative economy took a big hit in 2023 with just about every sector — from movie production to fashion manufacturing — affected by devastating strikes by actors and writers in the TV and film industries.

The only creative sector seeing any employment gains in 2023 was a section covering museums, art schools, dance and theater companies. That creative subset added 1,000 additional jobs as cities like L.A. expanded existing art museums or are building new projects, including the enormous Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, spearheaded by filmmaker George Lucas, now set to open in 2025 after a series of delays.

Last year, California’s creative economy shed 70,830 jobs, resulting in an 8 percent reduction from the previous year, according to the latest annual “Creative Economy” report unveiled Thursday by the Otis College of Art and Design in L.A. at a presentation held at Sony Pictures Studio.

TV, film and sound industry employment made up 58 percent of those job losses after the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federations of Television and Radio Artists, the unions representing actors, were on strike for several months last year.

The writers’ strike was one of the longest work stoppages in Hollywood history. And it had a trickle-down effect on businesses that work with the film industry, including caterers, prop houses, costume designers, set builders, restaurants and fashion boutiques.  

California’s fashion industry, which has been shrinking every year, experienced a 4 percent job decline last year with 89,755 people employees working in the industry compared with 93,592 the previous year. Macroeconomic issues such as high interest rates, labor shortages, the cost of doing business in California and the minimum wage inching up to $17.28 an hour on July 1, 2023, in Los Angeles, where most apparel factories reside, have hurt employment.

Even jobs in the architecture sector are down 2 percent to 50,416 due to high interest rates curtailing construction of new residential property and commercial structures. 

The bulk of California’s creative economy still rests in new media, with 244,096 people employed in software publishing and internet/streaming platforms, and more traditional TV, film and sound production covering 123,614 jobs. 

Even after the strikes ended last fall after a combined six months, it has been slow going for the entertainment industry to return to normal. Production levels are down 9 percent from pre-strike levels, according to the report.

“As many of you are aware, it has been a relatively tough period for the creative economy in the state. But it is worth reminding ourselves that California is still the national if not the global leader in the global creative economy,” said Taner Osman, a principal with Westwood Economics & Planning Associates, which prepared the economic report. “Within the United States, California accounts for one in five jobs in the creative economy. The creative economy is also a source of well-paying jobs.”

Last year, the average salary paid to creative workers was $191,700, more than twice the economy-wide average. Workers in new media averaged $332,561 a year in wages while the fashion industry saw average salaries of $73,887.

With higher wages, there has been a growing demand for more educated workers. Patrick Adler, another economist with Westwood Economics, noted that in the last decade, workers without a college degree have found it harder to land a job. Ten years ago, when Netflix and other streaming services started releasing their own movies, about 60 percent of film industry workers had a college education. That has risen to 68 percent in 2022. “This is a very significant change to happen in a decade,” Adler pointed out. “This trend is driving other trends, which is an increase in the number of white-collar jobs in the industry.”

Today, the creative economy is employing more people working in marketing, computer programming and managerial services, which require advanced degrees. “Our research shows there is a kind of lost generation of workers who have been displaced from entertainment because they are more likely not to have a college degree. They were working in the industry 10 years ago but not now,” Adler said. “We feel that the County of Los Angeles and the industry owes these workers a second chance to retain them and plug them back into a greater entertainment economy.”

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