America's Disappearing Jobs

Because of a major decline in jobs during the recession, the number of nonfarm workers is up just 5% over the past 10 years. While the past decade’s painful recession and the slow job growth that has followed have negatively affected most Americans, certain occupations have experienced job losses that were especially severe.

24/7 Wall St. compared employment figures published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for hundreds of occupations from May of 2002 and May 2012. In that time, the estimated number of advertising and promotions managers fell by nearly two-thirds. Because of the housing crisis, many occupations in the construction sector were disproportionately hurt, while many manufacturing trades lost jobs due to structural changes in the economy. These are America’s disappearing jobs.

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According to Martin Kohli, Chief Regional Economist for the BLS, “most of these occupations were concentrated in industries that hemorrhaged jobs during the Great Recession and have not yet bounced back to their job levels of 2002.”

This is clearly the case in the construction industry where, according to a 2011 BLS study, 1.5 million jobs were lost from December 2007 to June 2009. This nearly 20% drop in construction-related jobs was the largest of any other major sector. Three of the five occupations with the largest decline in employment are in the construction sector, where job totals are still well below pre-recession levels.

The number of workers in other occupations has been greatly reduced because of technological improvements. Jobs in several manufacturing occupations have been made expendable because of advances in automation. For drilling and boring machine operators working with metals and plastics, as well as for textile workers, automation has helped contribute to a more than 50% decrease in jobs between 2002 and 2012. Work in several fields, including prepress technicians and computer operators, has also been cut by improved software and automation of processes that specialists once had to do by hand.

Several occupations on this list also have suffered from companies moving jobs abroad. U.S.-based semiconductor processors jobs fell by half between May 2002 and May 2012, partly because of the lower labor cost in other countries. Similarly, more than half of textile jobs were cut due to the combination of outsourcing and improved automation.

To determine the jobs with the highest percentage decline in employment, 24/7 Wall St. compared data from the BLS’s Occupational Employment Statistics program for both 2002 and 2012. We included only jobs with an estimated 20,000 employees or more. The figures are estimates subject to sampling error and do not count self-employed workers. Data are collected by the program over several years. We considered only occupations that existed in both 2002 and 2012, and excluded any occupations split-up or consolidated between these periods. The textile workers occupation is a combination of two similar occupations listed by the BLS. The bulleted data is for one of these categories, but we make reference to both in the description. Further information on each occupation came from the Occupational Outlook Handbook and O*Net OnLine.

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