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The Hollywood Strike Could Cost NYC Tens of Thousands of Jobs

Work related to film and television production accounts for some 5% of all jobs in the city.

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Actors walk the picket line outside of Netflix’s New York headquarters, July 19, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Here is your July economic recovery update from THE CITY. We publish a new analysis of the city’s employment, job and fiscal indicators each month.

New York City’s economy, mired in a period of excruciatingly slow growth, could face a major blow in the coming months from the strike by writers and actors that has shut down the film and television industry.

The city added an average of only 7,000 jobs a month so far in 2023, at a time when the nation has seen surprisingly strong growth. The city’s seasonally adjusted employment reached 4,689,000 in June, still 21,000 jobs shy of its pre-pandemic level. The nation recovered all the jobs lost in the pandemic a year ago.

Now the Hollywood strike threatens to cost New York City tens of thousands of jobs if it continues this autumn.

The industry employed 101,000 people in the city last year, according to an analysis by James Parrott, an economist at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. About half of those were jobs directly in production and would be most immediately impacted by the work stoppage.

But the indirect effects will spread throughout the economy as transportation and catering businesses that provide services to studios and on-location shoots get hit.

If those jobs are included, employment related to the film and television industry includes about 180,000 people, representing 5% of the jobs in the city, about the same as Wall Street. 

While pay in film and television is not in the stratosphere of the securities industry, where salaries average more than $400,000, it is still one of the highest-paying sectors in New York at $173,000 on average. That’s almost 50% higher than the average private sector job, according to Parrott’s analysis.

The effects of the walkouts have so far been minimal because the Writers Guild of America strike, which began on May 2, did not shut down productions with already completed scripts. But the SAG-AFTRA actors’ walkout on July 14 did shut down the industry.

The number of film jobs in the city slipped by 2,000 in June from May, and the number of projects in production in June fell to 184 from 254 in the same month last year. Many more jobs will be lost in coming months if no agreement is reached.

And in a further blow to the city’s cultural sector, the union representing 1,500 Broadway production workers, IATSE, is holding a strike authorization vote. If approved, a strike could shutter Broadway shows as early as Friday. (Update: shortly after publication of this article, IATSE and a coalition of Broadway producers announced a deal, averting a strike).

Of 18 key sectors followed by THE CITY’s economic recovery tracker, the arts, entertainment and recreation field lags behind all others, still 17% behind pre-pandemic employment.

The Hollywood strike is over what the writers and actors say is declining pay as streaming services and other changes affect their compensation, plus the threat that artificial intelligence poses to their professions.

The studios counter that the decline of cable TV and rise of streaming TV — watching shows over the internet — have eroded their own finances and they have been cutting back on productions recently. New York City saw 2,116 productions last year, a slight increase from 2021 but still far below the 2019 record of 2,839.

Those involved in the industry declined to talk to THE CITY about the impact, possibly because they fear that would be seen as undermining the unions’ negotiating positions. But Mayor Eric Adams has pleaded for a settlement.

“It is essential that both parties find an effective balance that allows workers to be paid a fair wage and the industry to continue to thrive and create opportunities for good jobs,” Adams said in a statement. 

“We recommend both parties remain at the bargaining table to reach a voluntary agreement, so that our city can continue to thrive as a vibrant hub for film and television production.”

Jobless Rate Inches Up

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate inched up to 5.4% in June from 5.3% the previous month. The national unemployment rate in June was 3.6%, continuing a pattern where the city’s rate remains much higher than the nation.

Summer Tests Office Occupancy

After a big dip for July 4, office occupancy for the New York region has settled at 47%, a figure that could decline further as vacation season gets into full swing. The next test of whether office occupancy is increasing will come after Labor Day.

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