In last week’s column, I painted a rather grim picture of America’s future. Although it was a fictional piece about our country about a quarter of a century further into the age of cybernation, there are some signs of the conditions that lie ahead. Let’s start with the good news.
First, unemployment may have returned to pre-recession levels of the first decade of the 21st century. Second, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the job market is expected to grow by about seven percent between now and 2025, but the growth will not be in all industries, and most of the jobs that have been added since 2008 are in low-paying fields.
On the other hand, at least one job that used to yield working-class wages — nursing — is now a well-paying occupation. However, the level of education and training needed to get into the field is much more intense, as are the responsibilities. The BLS lists nursing and accounting as being in the “double-digit” job growth category. But, it seems likely to me that an online service could replace at least some of the mundane aspects of accounting.
In a recent report, the Pew Research Center showed that many jobs that once offered at least decent pay are quickly disappearing. But, if we use the traditional means of identifying family income, even these positions seldom yield enough income for true middle-income standing. By “traditional,” I mean a father who brought home the bacon, and a mother who reared two children and managed the household. In 2016, according to Pew, it took $48,083 to support a family of four in a middle-class style; only three of the average incomes shown below reach that standard, and they are disappearing.
(10) Bank tellers —Average salary: $26,410
Expected employment decline: 8 percent
Walking into a bank and waiting in line for a teller was something that people did routinely in the middle of the last century, but that pattern has change. Today, ATMs and online banking have eliminated many, if not most, of the functions that tellers once performed. Not only will about 40,000 of these jobs vanish during the coming decade, but the pay for existing jobs would not support a middle-income existence for a typical family.
(9) Home economics teachers — Average salary: $64,950
Expected employment decline: 12 percent
Fifteen years ago, nearly 5.5 million students were enrolled in high school home-ec courses. In 2012, there were 3.5 million still taking “family and consumer science,” learning about cooking, budget-making, and other household-related skills. According to BLS data, there are now 4,300 home-ec teachers; by 2025, there will be fewer than 3,800. Also, notice that this quickly-declining occupation is one of the few that could support a middle-income family.
(8) Travel agents — Average salary: $35,660
Expected employment decline: 12 percent
In the 1990s, there were 34,000 locations for travel agencies; in 2013, there were 13,000. This industry that has already shown considerable shrinkage will continue in decline. CNN reports that the 74,100 travel agent jobs of 2014 will contract to 65,400 in 2024. Online services make it possible for people to book flights, hotels, and activities in a matter of minutes. But, there may be a small niche for those workers who handle luxury and corporate accounts.
(7) Printing workers — Average salary: $34,620
Expected employment decline: 14 percent
Printed words are being supplanted by digital options. According to the Chicago Times, there was a 45 percent decrease in the number of printing jobs between 2001 and 2013. BLS data echoes this trend, and projects a continuing decline, especially among prepress technicians, from 36,500 today to 27,500 in 2025.
(6) Parking Enforcement Workers — Average salary: $36,530
Expected employment decline: 21 percent
The job of the parking enforcement worker (issuing tickets to illegally parked cars) can be easily transferred to other workers, and that is exactly what has been happening. Their ranks will shrink dramatically and may even vanish, as has been the case in Chicago and San Francisco.
(5) Manufacturing Jobs — Average salary: Varies
Expected employment decline: 20 percent to 25 percent
Over the years, I have written many columns about this phenomenon, the result of moving from an industrial society to post-industrialism and globalization. The bottom line is that if an employer can replace a person with a machine, the machine wins. Machines represent a one-time expense, don’t ask for benefits, can’t go on strike, and so forth. However, corporations will need highly skilled workers who can program and operate computer-controlled machinery.
(4) Watch Repairers — Average salary: $34,750
Expected employment decline: 26 percent
Cell phones. There’s not much more to say except that there will be a small need for highly-paid horologists who work on very expensive designer watches. Personally, I only use inexpensive watches which are more easily discarded and replaced than kept and repaired.
(3) Postal Service workers — Average salary: $56,790
Expected employment decline: 28 percent
This is part of the “bad news” cited at the beginning of today’s column because, like home economics, the income from a postal service work can actually support a family of four at a middle-income level. The Pew study found that the number of such jobs plummeted from 787,795 in 1999 to 491,863 in 2015 and will continue to drop by 28 percent during the next decade.
(2) Telephone and switchboard operators — Average salary: $35,880
Expected employment decline: 42 percent
Telephone operators are being replaced by 911, 411, and other three-digit conveniences. Switchboard operators and similar positions are yielding to those annoying machines that direct callers to Press 1 for Spanish; press 2 for X; press 3 for Y, etc.
(1) Locomotive firers — Average salary: $48,470
Expected employment decline: 70 percent
This is the third job with an income that could provide a middle-income life-style for a family of four, but its future is bleak. Unions once protected the jobs of five-person crews on railroads. In truth, most of those jobs have not been necessary for decades. So, as unions have lost their impact, the jobs have been vanishing. Only 1,700 people are still working as locomotive firers (or, really, assistant engineers) and they will see their ranks fall to 500 by 2025.
Some workers on this list are depending on Trumponomics to “bring back jobs,” but we need to face the fact that the past is the past because ... well, it has passed. Of course, this doesn’t mean that last week’s fable will come to pass.