Thoughts on the Future of the Creative Class

Florida responded to Timberg's contention that the creative class is getting pummeled by the recession, arguing that although the creative class has taken a hit, in general, its workers are better off than those in the working class. And, according to Florida, the prospects for a creative class recovery are better in the near-term as "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."

But neither Florida nor Timberg adequately address the nuances implied by Timberg's more provocative allegation -- that "the creative class is a lie" because the web has displaced high-level creative class jobs.

On one level, Timberg's assessment is accurate. Print publishing has suffered the rise of web-based media. There are expertly skilled members of the creative class whose high-wage jobs have been obviated by technologies that make it far more difficult for publications to monetize their content.

On the other hand, Timberg is being a bit myopic. Despite fears of a rogue citizen-blogger takeover, Matt Yglesias writes that paid blogging jobs seem to be on the rise, according to BLS data. That's not to say that the increase in paid blogging jobs in any way makes up for the mass high-level editorial layoffs Timberg is talking about, but it does suggest that this segment of the creative class is still actively adapting.

Of course, much of that adaptation is contingent on the monetization question, which Florida never really deals with in his response. Technology forces us to confront the challenge of redefining our expectations for the creative class in an economy where it is far easier to be a creative, but far harder to base your livelihood on your creative pursuits. The music industry is another telling example. It's much easier for a lot of musicians to make a record, build an online platform, and make a little bit of money creating their music. It's not so easy to make a lot of money, even at the highest levels of the industry.

Thus, what follows from blaming the web for killing the old ways of being creative, is not the conclusion that the creative class is dead, but that adapting has been and will probably continue to be painful as the web, like other highly disruptive technologies, increasingly spawns other opportunities for creatives to repurpose their skills in the new media environment.

In many ways, the economic viability of the creative class is a question of scale -- can it really be the major driver of economic growth or is it a necessary but vulnerable player in a complex global economy? If it's the latter, what does that mean for those in the creative class who are struggling to find any job let alone a job in their field of expertise? What does it mean for millennials who assumed that creativity would enhance their earning potential?

The answers to these questions may change as different industries adapt and evolve in all kinds of ways. By it's very definition, the creative class seems engineered to continually reinvent itself as the technological innovations its own members produce have all kinds of unpredictable and unintended consequences.

Photo credit: Beth Rankin