Why No One Wants to Be a Lumberjack

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Americans do not want to be news reporters, broadcasters, waitresses, soldiers, dishwashers, dairy farmers or oil rig workers. Most of all , they do not want to be lumberjacks. That is according to new research from CareerCast. The lumberjack problem tells a great deal about the employment challenges in the United States.

The job most favored in the survey is software engineer. Is it any wonder with the rise of Web 2.0 companies and tech firms from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) to Facebook? These positions have almost no physical demands. The need for engineers is high, and so is pay. Work environments are quiet, and employers often offer benefits such as free lunches. The balance of the most-favored jobs — which are actuary, human resources manager, dental hygienist and financial planner — share benefits similar to those of software engineers, with the exception of the free lunch.

Aside from pay differences, the striking conclusion from the CareerCast study is that many of the jobs that helped build the American economy are no longer attractive. Farming was once at the core of U.S. gross domestic product, and to a lesser extent it is still is. Agricultural products remain essential to the size of the pool of U.S. exports. Military service used to be considered an honor, and in some cases, a calling. Oil and gas production jobs were once, and still are, absolutely essential to the health and economy, and the country’s efforts to be energy independent.

Another thing that most of the least desirable jobs share is that they require substantial physical exertion. That makes them similar to many manufacturing jobs. These are the jobs that politicians say have gone overseas in great numbers to places like China, Mexico and Vietnam. Let the people in those nations do the labor. But some policy makers and economists say these jobs have been “stolen,” by the Chinese, in particular. Perhaps, to some modest extent, many Americans did not want them if they had to do them.

Companies like CareerCast use these surveys, probably not scientifically done at all, for public relations reasons. CareerCast gets its name in the paper. Websites create slide shows from its “ten best” and “ten worst” jobs lists. Hidden behind all the PR is a reality. Americans favor desk jobs today, and that was much less the case just a few decades ago. Once upon a time it was an honor to be a farmer.

Douglas A. McIntyre