America’s Fastest Shrinking Jobs

September 3, 2015 by 247alexkent

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 The economic recession of the last decade decimated the U.S. labor market, with millions of Americans losing their jobs. To this day, many occupations remain below their pre-recession employment levels.

The recession did not have the same effect on all occupations. Some types of businesses remained stable, or even flourished during those years. In some occupations in the hardest hit industries, however, total employment fell by more than half. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on occupational employment changes from 2005 through 2014, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 fastest shrinking jobs in the country.

Click here to see the 10 fastest shrinking jobs.

Click here to see the 10 fastest growing jobs.

The collapse of the U.S. housing market crushed the construction industry. New home starts fell from 24.9 million in 2005 to 6.6 million in 2009. Largely for this reason, some of the biggest occupational declines during the past decade were in the construction industry. Of the 10 fastest shrinking positions, four were construction-related jobs, including carpenters’ assistants, which shrank by more than 60% over the past decade, the most of any job.

It is worth noting that while employment in these occupations has contracted, the situation is not necessarily permanent. As the economy continues to recover, some of these positions are also expected to rebound, especially construction-related occupations. For example, the number of bricklayers and brickmasons, which fell by close to 50% from 2005 through 2014, is expected to grow 35.5% by 2022.

While the recession may have catalyzed the declines in some of the disappearing occupations — and a recovery would likely mean better years ahead for these positions — other occupations are not on the verge of bouncing back. As technology improves and business and cultural practices change, some jobs — word processors and switchboard operators, for example — are simply on the way to becoming obsolete.

The BLS projects these positions will continue to see dramatic decreases in employment in the coming years. As new software, hardware, and automation have made word processors largely redundant, the typist position declined by close to 50% over the past decade. From 2012 through 2022, employment in this occupation is expected to decline by an additional 25%.

To determine the fastest shrinking jobs, 24/7 Wall St. used Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2005 and 2014. Our rank is based on the percent change in employment over that period. We only considered occupations with at least 20,000 employees nationwide as of 2014. Additionally, we did not include catch-all occupations such as Managers, All Other. Where two occupations were virtually identical, we only discussed one. Also from the OES, we looked at annual median salaries and the percentage of people employed in each occupation that are self-employed. From the BLS’ Employment Projections division, we looked at education requirements, job training, and employment projections from 2012 through 2022 for each occupation.

These are America’s fastest shrinking jobs.

10. Switchboard Operators, Including Answering Service
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 26,550
> Median annual pay: $26,550

Some jobs, such as switchboard operators, are disappearing because of changes in technology or in societal needs — changes that are likely permanent. With the increased use of automated switchboards and similar technology there is little need for live operators. Close to 200,000 Americans were employed in these positions a decade ago. Last year, just 108,890 people worked in the field. The BLS projects this decline to continue in the coming years.

9. Textile Knitting and Weaving Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 22,760
> Median annual pay: $27,270

Textile knitting and weaving machine setters, operators, and tenders are responsible for checking cloth and machines for defects. From 2005 through 2014, employment in this field fell by 46.8% to just under 23,000 jobs. Outsourcing is likely the main reason for the dramatic decline. While workers in this field are paid just $27,270 in the United States, 77% of the national median salary, such workers in other countries like Bangladesh, India, and China are paid significantly less. The BLS projects employment to decline to 16,500 jobs by 2022.

8. Word Processors and Typists
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 81,300
> Median annual pay: $36,700

Word processors and typists are responsible for typing letters or reports from rough drafts or voice recordings. Over the 10 years ending in 2014, the number of workers employed as word processors and typists declined by 47.1% to 81,300. Advances in computers and other new technology may soon make the administrative and support tasks associated with word processor and typist occupations obsolete. Employment in this field is projected to shrink further in the future, with the BLS forecasting a 25% drop in the 10 years through 2022.

7. Semiconductor Processors
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 23,580
> Median annual pay: $34,680

Semiconductor processors monitor the production of microchips that are found in nearly all electronic devices. Despite strong and increasing demand for microchips, many workers in this occupation are being replaced by machines. Additionally, high manufacturing costs in the U.S. have driven many of the companies that employ semiconductor processors overseas. As a consequence, employment in this field fell 47.3% from 2005 through 2014, and the BLS forecasts an additional 27.1% decline in employment by 2022. Plants still operating domestically may already be facing pressure to keep operating costs low to remain competitive. A typical semiconductor processor earned $34,680, in line with the national median, but just 11.8% higher than 10 years earlier. Nationwide, salaries rose 20.8% over that period.

6. Brickmasons and Blockmasons
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 59,340
> Median annual pay: $47,650

Employment of brickmasons and blockmasons shrank by 48.8% from 2005 through 2014, the sixth largest contraction in the country. Much of that decline is likely due to the recession, which may have prevented developers from investing in new projects and homeowners from expanding or improving their homes. Still, the rapidly growing U.S. population will require more schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings, many of which are made of brick or stone. By 2022, the BLS forecasts that employment in this field will grow by 35.5% to more than 96,000.

5. Executive Secretaries and Executive Administrative Assistants
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 713,730
> Median annual pay: $51,270

The number of executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants was cut in half over the past decade. According to the BLS, technological advances have resulted in an increasing number of executives taking care of their own correspondence and scheduling. Because of this, corporations are increasingly replacing higher-paying executive secretary positions with lower-level secretary positions. In the coming years, even as secretary positions are expected to rise overall, the number of executive secretaries and administrative assistants is anticipated to remain stagnant.

4. Computer Operators
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 58,060
> Median annual pay: $39,590

Computer operators are responsible for operating computer terminals and monitoring data processing systems. Workers in this occupation must ensure machines are functioning properly, which involves checking and responding to error messages as well as recording and documenting problems. Automation and improved computing may be two reasons employment in this occupation fell 55% from 2005 through 2014 and is projected to fall by another 17% by 2022.

3. Plasterers and Stucco Masons
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 20,760
> Median annual pay: $37,550

Slightly less than 21,000 people are employed as plasters and stucco masons in the country, down 56.5% since 2005. A typical worker in this field earned $37,550 in 2014, slightly higher than the national median salary, and one of the highest paying occupations for people with less than a high school diploma. Like other jobs on this list, employment of plasterers and stucco masons can be extremely sensitive to changes in the business cycle — such as the last decade’s housing bust. Despite declining in previous years, the BLS estimates employment in this field will increase 15% over the 10 years ending in 2022.

2. Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters — Helpers
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 23,570
> Median annual pay: $28,830

The number of assistants working with brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters fell from 58,690 in 2005 to just 23,570 as of last year. This nearly 60% drop came primarily as a byproduct of the subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent collapse of the U.S. housing market and construction industry. According to the BLS, helpers were more affected than other construction workers because “contractors kept their more experienced workers and had them perform tasks that helpers would normally do.” While they do not appear likely to return to previous levels, positions for construction helpers are expected to grow by 43% by 2022 as the industry continues to recover.

1. Carpenters — Helpers
> 10-year job growth:
> Total employed: 38,900
> Median annual pay: $26,600

Carpenters’ helpers — commonly called gofers — perform lower-skill tasks, such as gathering materials or tools and cleaning the work area and equipment. In 2005, nearly 102,000 carpenters’ helpers were employed in the United States. As of 2014, employment in this field had contracted 61.8%, largely due to the slowdown in construction during the recession. According to the BLS, helpers are usually the first to lose their jobs in economic downturns because contractors prefer to keep their more experienced workers and have them perform tasks normally reserved for helpers. As the housing market rebounds, carpenters’ helpers may not be found among America’s disappearing jobs. In fact, the BLS projects the number of people employed in this occupation will increase by 29.6% by 2022.