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Blog Post · February 21, 2018

Occupational Shifts Favor California’s High-Skill Workers

The recession and recovery have reshaped California’s workforce. Between 2008, when employment peaked, and 2010, when it bottomed out, the state lost three quarters of a million jobs. Since then, the state has experienced sustained job growth; according to US Census Bureau data, by 2016 there were 1 million more workers in California than there had been in 2008. This job growth has not been evenly distributed. Some occupations experienced large losses during the recession and have not fully recovered, while others experienced small losses and now have much higher employment levels than they did at their pre-recession peak. While there are some high-growth occupations that do not require high levels of education, workers with at least a bachelor’s degree have prospered the most over the past several years.

Overall, California’s workforce is becoming more educated: the share of the full-time year-round workforce with at least a bachelor’s degree grew from 31% in 2008 to 35% in 2016. Highly educated workers got more than half of the jobs created in the five fastest-growing occupational categories (based on increases in the share of total full-time year-round workers) between 2008 and 2016:

  1. Personal care and service
  2. Computer and mathematical
  3. Healthcare practitioners and technicians
  4. Food preparation and serving
  5. Business operations specialists

All of these occupations experienced small declines during the recession and strong growth during the recovery. The number of full-time year-round workers increased 28%—from 2.5 million in 2008 to 3.2 million in 2016. Workers in some of these occupations, such as food preparation and serving, earn relatively low wages and tend to have low levels of educational attainment, while workers in other areas, such as computer and mathematical, collect high wages and tend to be college graduates. Altogether, workers with at least a bachelor’s degree made up 433,000 (56%) of the 770,000 jobs gained between 2008 and 2016 by the top five categories.

Workers with at least a bachelor’s degree also made gains in the five slowest-growing occupational categories:

  1. Protective service
  2. Construction
  3. Production
  4. Sales and related
  5. Office and administrative support

These occupations experienced sharp losses during the recession and have not returned to their pre-recession peaks. The number of full-time year-round workers in these occupations declined from 5.3 million in 2008 to 5.1 million in 2016. On average, educational attainment levels are low in these occupations, but workers with at least a bachelor’s degree fared relatively well: the number with at least a bachelor’s degree grew by 89,000, even though these categories have experienced a net loss of 184,000 jobs.

In short, the recession and recovery have accelerated some long-term trends in California’s economy. High-skill occupations and highly educated workers have fared well, while less-educated workers in lower-skilled jobs have faced declining employment opportunities.


Economy employment Higher Education highly educated workers job growth jobs recovery Workforce and Training Workforce Needs