California Arts, Entertainment Jobs Decimated by Pandemic

Kali Hays
·4 min read

Hundreds of thousands of jobs in California’s “creative economy” were lost over the course of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, costing the state billions of dollars in economic output.

In an annual report put together by Otis College of Art and Design and Beacon Economics, they found that 175,360 workers in California lost their employment between February and December of last year in fields like film, media, fashion, architecture and fine arts. About 110,000 of the lost jobs lost were by workers in Los Angeles, the state’s most populous county. The region has seen demand at local food banks grow 145 percent during the pandemic, according to the L.A. Regional Food Bank.

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Nationwide, job losses in the creative economy are estimated at 750,000, according to the report. Deaths from the virus recently surpassed 500,000 people.

Unemployment across California among those with creative jobs hit 13 percent at the end of 2020, compared to a national unemployment rate of 8.2 percent. In L.A., the losses were even worse, with unemployment in creative jobs at 24 percent, according to the study, up from about 17 percent in September. And those are only numbers for direct job losses. When accounting for “secondary impacts,” so those jobs that function in service to an industry, like companies that move film equipment, there were another 337,000 jobs lost last year in California.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the creative economy was enjoying positive economic trends in several sectors,” the report said. Employment in the sector in California between 2008 and 2019 grew by more than 13 percent, led by growing jobs numbers in digital media, fine arts and architecture.

But last year’s job losses cost California an estimated $140 billion in total economic output, or the total value of all goods and services produced in an economy, and an estimated $16.8 billion in combined state and federal tax revenue.

“Los Angeles County accounts for over half of the estimated economic output losses triggered by job cuts in the statewide creative economy,” the report said. It estimates that L.A. lost $79 billion in economic output and a combined $9 billion in tax revenue.

During the pandemic, workers in film and TV were hardest hit, as productions were halted for most of the year, with many only recently getting underway again under generally strict health safety measures. Some 92,000 people lost such jobs nationwide, 50,000 of them in L.A. alone.

“The number of production days in 2020 was the lowest in 25 years of recorded production data,” the report said, falling from about 19,000 days last year from roughly 36,500 the year before.

Jobs in the fashion sector were also hard hit during the pandemic, with almost 23,000 people losing work last year.

While the report notes that the Paycheck Protection Program did offer some aide to California businesses and companies, it found that the amount given to creative businesses was disproportionately low relative to its rate of employment. Creative jobs amount to about 8 percent of the state’s total jobs, but such businesses only received $287 million in PPP loans, equal to 1.6 percent of the total received by all businesses in the state.

“The past year has illustrated painfully how the public and private support systems intended to protect and support individuals in the creative economy have either frayed or broken altogether,” the report said.

The report did not recommend that the government programs for financial assistance be overhauled, especially not at this late stage in the pandemic. But it did make several recommendations for how creative businesses in California hurt during the pandemic can be allowed to more easily come back when normal operations can return as more people are vaccinated through this year.

One such recommendation is that fees and permits be waived for businesses trying to adjust to demands of a post-pandemic world. The report cites an anonymous art gallery owner thinking of offering alcohol during a show or hosting live music to draw people, things that would normally need local approval. “Permitting a creative use of my space isn’t easy. The system should want to support me rather than wear me down,” the gallerist said.

But overall, businesses spoken to for the report want “uniform guidelines” from the state on how to reopen now, taking into account differences within creative fields, like dance companies and stage theaters. Currently, such businesses say they have no reopening guidance from the state.

“A set of state guidelines that accounts for the different levels of risk related to different activities, and that can be modified as conditions change,” the report said, “will be most welcome, both by the arts community and by local jurisdictions with limited resources to devote to artistic policymaking.”

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