The creator economy includes millions of Americans making full-time livings from things like content creation. But the United States government barely recognizes the industry or its many contributors exists.
An article in The Washington Post points out that this actually has serious consequences. Especially when you consider how much representation other industries have in government affairs.
When it comes to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 22,000 listed American industries. They get incredibly specific, all the way down to things like roller skate repair, pickled onion manufacturing, badminton equipment, and five different ways to classify your work with bagels. But there's no specific mention of social media, content creator, or influencer.
Understanding Who The Creator Economy Includes
Part of the issue is not just how new the "creator economy" is, but how big it is. It's a nebulous term that includes not just content creators and influencers, but also all the different artists, editors, actors, specialists, and people they employ. Everything from traditional actors, bands, and artists, to newsletter authors, short-form content editors, and livestreaming gamers fall under the umbrella.
Different groups, companies, and organizations have tried to put a specific figure on just how many content creators there are, with Goldman Sachs estimating 50 million globally, and others reaching a conclusions as much as five times that high. And it's not just a lot of people, either. The sector is expected to generate $480 billion by 2027, a massive jump from the $250 billion this year. In other words, content creators and their economic outputs are vast and expanding.
Content creators and influencers reach nearly three quarters of the U.S. Their content is everywhere and their effects on pop culture unavoidable, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But they don't get much consideration as an official industry.
Why Lack Of Representation Matters
The lack of proper identification for different content creators by the U.S. Census Bureau isn't just a weird or quirky oversight. It's indicative of a larger problem with how the government views this incredibly fast-growing sector — and how those who rely on it can create assurances for themselves. The fact that there 14 different industry classifications for knitting but not even one for short-form video creator or social media influencer is, you know, a problem.
YouTube estimates that content creators on its platform account for about 390,000 full-time jobs. As The Washington Post points out, this is four times the number of people employed by General Motors, America's largest auto manufacturer. These employees and their unions have a substantial presence in Washington.
Thanks to this representation, unions have been able to do things like secure weekends and 8-hour work weeks, along with safety guarantees, child labor laws, and more. But many content creators don't get to play by those rules, and instead deal with all kinds of unregulated and often ethically dubious factor from the major companies that publish their content.
And while many creators are multiple things — like performers or entertainment personalities — it's not really those industries that need representation. And asking millions of people who make a full-time living from content to simply classify themselves "independent artists, writers, and performers" or "public relations specialists" is pretty shortsighted when you have 10 different industries for "mosaics" and even go so far as to differentiate between manufacturing marshmallows and manufacturing marshmallow creme.
Issues Facing Content Creators That The Government Needs To Be Aware Of
This is not to say that the obvious solution to issues facing content creators is to unionize and strong-arm the government into caring about the industry. It's a complex issue with a lot of options. Though group representation is certainly one solution with historically positive outcomes. But with the government only just now making a serious effort to address AI and how it affects copyrights and creators, there's no doubt that content creators are not top of mind when it comes to making sure companies don't exploit people.
Wildly inconsistent and often clandestine payment policies between different content apps often lead creators frustrated. Algorithmic changes create uncertainty for creators who have generated hundreds of thousands to millions of watch hours for these companies but may find the entirety of their business gone in a matter of a week. There are questions around whether or not people under 18 have the same financial protections as actors (it's not guaranteed state-to-state).
Platforms often leave creators out to dry and do nothing to stop content theft. But they also find clever ways to avoid responsibility for allowing unsafe content to permeate. Platforms will also "punish" creators for violations that can seem as random as they are unjustified, from mentioning a competing platform during a livestream to running certain types of sponsored content. Many platforms highly regulate their creators without providing adequate protections.
It's not all bad, of course. The creator economy has opened up a wealth of opportunities for people across the globe. But content creation is a real industry, and one that needs oversight.
We're long passed the days of just being "grateful" to earn money from social media content. These platforms rely on clever and engaging creators to keep eyes on them and make them valuable in the first place. And while much of the regulatory focus on social media platforms has been around protecting youth, addressing the dissemination of misinformation, or curbing the potentially addictive nature of social media, there's been little done to protect the creators who also make the industry an incredibly important one.
The first step to doing that is probably officially acknowledging it exists.