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Skipping the recession: 'Creative class' beats working class at retaining jobs

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2012 7:00 a.m. MDT

People who work in the "creative class" weather economic storms better than those in the working class, a study says.

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A year ago, the online magazine Salon proclaimed the creative class was "melting." Now a new study says the creative class is the best place to be if they want to survive economic downturns.

What is the creative class? Wikipedia says it is a socioeconomic class of people who are engaged in creative processes such as "science, engineering, education, computer programming (and) research" with people in the arts, design and media. It can also include "classic knowledge-based workers (including) those working in health care, business and finance, the legal sector and education."

The Salon article by Scott Timberg observed last year: "For many computer programmers, corporate executives who oversee social media, and some others who fit the definition of the 'creative class' … things are good. The creativity of video games is subsidized by government research grants; high tech is booming. 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."

Salon said, however, that "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."

Richard Florida, the social scientist who basically coined and popularized the term "creative class," wrote in The Atlantic about a study looking at how well the different classes did in the recession: "The unemployment rate for creative class workers, which was 1.9 percent in 2006 before the crisis, increased to just 4.1 percent in the years following the recession's official end — an increase of 2.2 percentage points. The unemployment rate for workers in blue-collar jobs increased from 6.5 percent before the onset of crisis to 14.6 percent at its end, more than three times higher than that for creative class workers and a jump of more than 8 percentage points. The unemployment rate for workers in routine service jobs increased from 5 percent to 9.3 percent at its end, more than double that for creative class workers and a 4.3 percent jump."

A working copy of the study online concludes, "The empirical evidence presented in the paper suggests that having a Creative Class occupation lowers an individual's probability of being unemployed — in fact, the effect is larger than the marginal effect associated with having a four-year college degree (compared to someone with only a high school diploma) — and that the impact of having a creative occupation became more beneficial in the two years following the recession. These results, along with our findings related to the other major occupational groups, are indicative of a structural change taking place in the U.S. economy."

That structural change is high and growing unemployment in the working class while creative class workers do better.

"What we're going through isn't just a financial collapse or a great recession. It's a great reset," Florida said, according to Hispanic Business. "We're witnessing the decline of an older order, an order that gave my parents, my brother and I a great life trajectory based on mass production, factories and the great American working-class economy powered by suburbanization."

"Less than 6 percent of the work force touches products in a factory," Florida continued. "But … more than 40 million in the U.S. are part of a new creative class — people who create new technology, manage enterprises, educate us and deliver our health care."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/madegroote

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