Creative Class and Service Workers

Creative class advocate Richard Florida says successful cities in the future need to cultivate innovation in their service sectors to boost service worker wages.Richard Florida, who coined the phrase "creative class," now warns cities that recruit knowledge workers also need to attack the problem of stagnant income growth for the rest of their workforce.

In an interview on NPR this week, Florida said cities should continue to cultivate "creative class clusters" for workers in knowledge-based industries, artists and professionals. These clusters thrive on innovation and attract higher paying jobs and business opportunities.

But these income gains don't trickle down, Florida said. As the creative class thrives, wages and working conditions for service workers in the same cities languish, promoting an even wider economic disparity. He said as many as 60 million service workers find themselves stuck in an economic quagmire.

Florida urged city leaders to accompany efforts to attract knowledge workers with engagement with service industry employers. Ideas he mentioned are finding ways to boost wages for service workers through increased productivity.

Citing a similar predicament in the early 1900s in U.S. manufacturing, Florida said enlightened industry leaders concluded they would be better off by boosting demand through higher wages for their workers. If Ford assembly line workers made more, they would have the money to buy a Ford they helped to produce.

While appealing at one level, the analogy may not completely apply to automating the service industry, which after all depends on personal service. Nevertheless, Florida raises an interesting notion about trying to nurture a community of innovation in a sector that is typified by part-time and multi-job workers, including a fair number of people with college degrees who are unable to land a job in their field of study.

Other ideas floated by Florida to improve the lot of service workers were more affordable housing and concentrated development at public transit nodes.

Vibrant cities in the future, Florida contends, will be ones where there is opportunity for both knowledge and service workers to move up the economic ladder.