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A few weeks ago the Martin Prosperity Institute released Canada’s Divided Cities, a study on the geographic distribution of occupations in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. It focuses on three classes of worker made semi-famous by Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute, in his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class: service class (workers in retail, administration, food and personal services), working class (manufacturing, construction, transportation and warehousing), and creative class (a broadly defined term including workers in technology, technical and scientific occupations, business, medicine, the arts, education, professional services).

The study left me wondering: how has the creative class workforce in Canadian cities has changed over time, especially in Edmonton and other cities with a working class reputation? The chart below shows how the share of Canadian metro areas’ workers who are in the ‘super creative core’, a subset of Florida’s creative class chosen for data availability and other reasons discussed below the chart, has changed from 1996 to 2013.

creative occ chart

Interestingly the super creative core’s share of employment has increased in every major Canadian city, but by relatively little in some cases (including Edmonton’s). Edmonton also seems to earn its reputation as a working class city, with the 9th-lowest percentage of super creative core employment among major cities. Should that matter to Edmontonians? To answer that question, it’s important to consider how the creative class is defined.

Since the publication of Rise of the Creative Class, Florida has received criticism for how he defines the creative class (see here, for example). Essentially, the argument is that by categorizing workers as creative based on broad occupational groups he ends up grouping occupations like artist with occupations like dental hygienist and tax collector.  To help mitigate this I chose to focus on Florida’s super creative core, which includes these Canadian occupational codes:

C0 Professional Occupations in Natural and Applied Sciences
C1 Technical Occupations Related to Natural and Applied Sciences
E0 Judges, Lawyers, Psychologists, Social Workers, Ministers of Religion, and Policy and Program Officers
E1 Teachers and Professors
F0 Professional Occupations in Art and Culture
F1 Technical Occupations in Art, Culture, Recreation and Sport

Even this narrower definition includes occupations that undoubtedly require creative thinking, but that for most people probably don’t come immediately to mind when they think of a ‘creative’ job. For example, when you consider that ‘Policy and Program Officers’ are largely government workers it makes a lot of sense that Ottawa would have the highest share of super creative core workers in Canada.

So given how the super creative core is actually defined, should we care that Edmonton has one of the lowest percentages of these workers in Canada, or that this percentage has barely changed in 20 years? I think we shouldn’t sweat it.  These are quality, high-paying jobs that require a lot of creative thinking, but they’re not great indicators of how Edmonton’s creative economy is really performing.

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