Special Report

17 Disappearing Middle Class Jobs


The U.S. job market is expected to grow by about 7% over the next decade. At that rate, roughly 10 million more Americans will be employed by 2024.

However, these new jobs are not likely to be created evenly across all occupations and industries. The nation’s middle class has been shrinking at what some call an alarming rate, and even as the nation’s job market is expected to grow, demand for many mid- to low-skilled, primarily middle class positions is expected to rapidly decline. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a loss of hundreds of thousands of such jobs in the coming years due to outsourcing and the development of new technology.

More than 90 million of Americans work in jobs that require little to no prior experience and less than a bachelor’s degree. These positions tend provide any needed training on the job. In some cases, a two-year associate’s program is all that is required.

Click here to see the 17 disappearing middle class jobs.

A low educational requirement and a lack of specialization means these jobs are much more accessible. However, this also means workers in these fields tend to be poorly compensated. The typical worker in the vast majority of the fastest disappearing middle-skill jobs has an annual salary of less than $40,000.

Another significant downside to these low-skill jobs is that a lack of specialization typically translates to a greater exposure to replacement by new technology. The now-widespread use of computers and the Internet for commerce and communication has resulted in hundreds of thousands of layoffs, from the post office to brick-and-mortar retailers.

The print industry, for example, has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, as consumers have transitioned from newspapers and books to news sites and e-readers. The ranks of printing press operators and print binding and finishing workers — jobs tied to the dwindling popularity of physical print — is projected to decrease by 12.5% and 13.7%, respectively, by 2024.

Automation and computing will also continue to contribute to sharp declines in certain middle-class jobs. The need for computer operators is steadily decreasing, as is demand for typist jobs and office machine operators.

The most dramatic change in employment due to the Internet will be among postal workers. The U.S. Postal Service has seen usage plunge as Americans switch from physical mail to email, and as businesses now conduct transactions online. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of full-time postal workers fell from over 700,000 to 487,000, and the service will likely continue to contract for years. The BLS projects a nearly 34% plunge in the number of Postal Service mail sorters and processors, for example, by 2024.

While technology and computing advances are responsible for the declining demand of most jobs on this list, outsourcing of the country’s manufacturing jobs outside the United States is also a factor. For example, the number of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to decline by 13% as many of those jobs will move overseas. Some specific occupations in the field, such as those working on molding, coremaking, and casting machines, will likely shrink by 25% within the next decade.

To identify the middle class jobs disappearing the fastest, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed jobs with the largest projected employment percentage decline from 2014 through 2024. To be considered, an occupation needed to have a minimum of 50,000 workers employed as of 2014 ,require minimal prior work experience, and typically require no education beyond an associate’s degree. Worker characteristics such as median annual wages, typical education needed for entry, and on-the-job training needed to reach competency came from the BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. In some cases, multiple jobs with similar classifications made the list. In these cases, only the class with the largest projected decline was listed.

These are the 17 disappearing middle class jobs.

17. Bill and account collectors
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 350.4
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 330.9
> Median annual wage: $33,700

Bill and account collectors are typically tasked with reaching out to customers with overdue bills and negotiating repayment plans. Persons employed in this occupation typically have just a high school diploma, as any other necessary skills can be obtained through a moderate amount of on-the-job training. While overall, jobs are expected to grow by 7% across the United States from 2014 through 2024, the number of bill and account collectors is expected to decline by 6% over that period. This decline is in part due to the ongoing consolidation of collections agencies, as most small private operations are disappearing. Also, the increasing use and sophistication of software and automated calling systems has reduced the need for these occupations.

16. Mechanical drafters
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 65.7
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 61.2
> Median annual wage: $52,200

Mechanical drafters are the only position on this list that requires some post-secondary education — an associate’s degree in drafting. For this reason, the position also pays more than most positions on this list, at over $52,000 annually. Mechanical drafters create technical drawings of machines based on the designs of engineers. Unfortunately for these workers, manual drafting practice is on the decline due to the increased sophistication of CAD (computer-aided design) software, which allows engineers to create their own technical designs without drafters.

15. Surveying and mapping technicians
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 57.3
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 52.9
> Median annual wage: $40,770

Roughly 57,000 surveyors and mapping technicians work in the United States to collect data on terrain and geographic features. While mapping technicians often need a specialized education, most surveyors can get by with just a high school diploma. These positions tend to rely on the strength of the construction industry. However, even as most construction-related positions are projected to grow faster than the national job growth rate over the next decade, surveyors and mapping technician positions are on the decline in the United States, with a projected loss of 4,400 jobs through 2024. Technological advancement in the field such as the development of robots capable of replacing surveyors will push out a number of these workers.

14. Tellers
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 520.5
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 480.5
> Median annual wage: $25,760

Bank tellers are one of the largest middle-class jobs in the country, with more than 520,000 tellers. A typical person employed in this position earns just $25,760, and the job typically requires just a high school education, as any necessary additional training is typically provided on the job. The number of tellers working at American banks will decline by as many as 40,000 through 2024. The advent of online and mobile banking is driving this decline, as bank customers are now able to take care of many of the tasks that comprise the bulk of a teller’s duties, including transferring money between accounts and depositing checks.

13. Chemical equipment operators and tenders
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 66.3
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 60.8
> Median annual wage: $48,090

There will be roughly 5,500 fewer chemical equipment operator jobs in the United States by 2024. This projected 8.3% decrease is one of the largest among the country’s middle-skill jobs. While the vast majority of rapidly disappearing jobs have relatively low salaries, ranging between $25,000 and $40,000 a year, chemical equipment operators are relatively well compensated. The typical worker in the field earns more than $48,000 a year. The higher compensation may be due the inherent danger of fire and explosions on the job. Job responsibilities of such workers include operating equipment where chemical reactions take place in the process of manufacturing industrial or consumer goods.

12. Procurement clerks
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 72.3
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 66.3
> Median annual wage: $39,930

Those working in procurement typically perform buying duties for an organization by preparing and sending out purchase orders, managing bills and billing issues, and ensuring receipt of shipments. As Internet commerce has eased the buying process for businesses, employment in the field is projected to decline by 8.3% from 2014 through 2024. Procurement clerk jobs generally require more education than most of the disappearing American jobs. While a majority of workers in rapidly contracting fields have little more than a high school education, more than half of all procurement clerks have an associate’s degree, and a fifth have a bachelor’s degree.

11. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 1760.3
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 1611.5
> Median annual wage: $36,430

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks, while crucial for any organization, will be in considerably less demand in 10 years. Job responsibilities typically include maintaining accurate financial records by tallying, tracking, and categorizing expenses. Due to technological changes, such as improved accounting software, there will be about 8% fewer such jobs by 2024. Jobs in the field tend to require higher education levels than most of the country’s jobs with dwindling demand. Over a quarter of those employed as accounting clerks have some college education, and nearly a fifth have a bachelor’s degree.

10. Travel agents
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 74.1
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 65.4
> Median annual wage: $34,800

Travel agents are one of the most rapidly disappearing professions in the United States. The job primarily entails booking transportation and lodging and planning itineraries and destinations for clients, tasks the traveler can now accomplish with relative ease through the Internet. Becoming increasingly obsolete, the number of jobs in the field is projected to decline by 12% by 2024. The vast majority of travel agents need little more than a high school diploma as a prerequisite for the job.

9. Printing press operators
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 173.0
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 151.4
> Median annual wage: $35,100

Few occupations are disappearing at a faster rate than printing press operators. Roughly 173,000 Americans were employed as printing press operators in 2014. That number is projected to drop to 151,400, a 12.5% decline, by 2024. Printing press operators have a range of responsibilities, including setting and aligning the presses, using the proper ink to meet job specifications, and random inspections of printed material in order to identify the need for any adjustments. Declining employment in the field is a byproduct of the decline of the newspaper industry, where revenue has dropped by more than a third since 2005.

8. Print binding and finishing workers
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 51.2
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 44.2
> Median annual wage: $29,500

With the advent of digital reading platforms, the demand for physical books has declined, and employment in the print binding and finishing field is suffering. By 2024, there will be roughly 14% fewer people working in the field than there were in 2014. Like many of the most rapidly disappearing jobs, print binding and finishing is a highly procedural, routinized job that rarely requires post-secondary education. Duties include installing binding machinery and inspecting finished products for defects and imperfections.

7. Word processors and typists
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 90.7
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 76.5
> Median annual wage: $36,700

Word processors and typists are rapidly disappearing from the American workforce. The duties of a typist range from using a word processor to transcribing voice recordings to typing out final copies of reports, letters, and drafts. The BLS estimates that the number of jobs in the field will decrease by over 15% between 2014 and 2024. Most typists jobs do not require post high school education or certification. Like most disappearing jobs, typists are likely not in high demand due to advances in computers and new technology that have made electronic business transactions more popular.

6. Office machine operators, except computer
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 69.6
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 58.0
> Median annual wage: $28,510

Only a handful of American jobs are disappearing faster than office machine operators. Workers in the field use machines such as scanners, printers, and photocopiers for clients or coworkers. Like many rapidly disappearing American jobs, the educational requirements for office machine operators are minimal. The majority of the roughly 69,600 employed in the field do not have a post secondary education. By 2024, the number of office machine operator jobs is projected to decline by nearly 17%.

5. Non-postal service mail clerks and mail machine operators
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 104.9
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 85.1
> Median annual wage: $27,890

The U.S. Postal Service has been truly decimated over the past decade, as the number of employees plunged by 31% over than time. The widespread use of email has drastically reduced the need for physical mail. For non-government mail workers, the trend is not quite as bad, but still worse than most jobs. Thousands of mail clerks and machine operators not employed by the Postal Service will likely lose their jobs through 2024, a projected 18.8% drop.

4. Computer operators
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 61.1
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 49.5
> Median annual wage: $39,590

Computer operators’ primary tasks include monitoring and responding to computer error messages and entering commands at a computer terminal. However, with the increased sophistication of computer hardware and software, the computer operator profession has become less relevant in recent years. While currently about 61,100 workers are employed in the field, the number of computer operator jobs is projected to contract by 19% between by 2024.

There are relatively few educational requirements for computer operators. Roughly 43% of those employed in the field reported having a two-year college degree, and nearly one-quarter of computer operators have only a high school diploma.

3. Molding, coremaking, and casting machine workers
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 129.5
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 97.2
> Median annual wage: $28,810

Many different occupations fall into the category of setters, operators, and tenders, workers who maintain and operate the machines used in the manufacturing of plastic and metal parts. As is the case with nearly all of the declining middle class jobs on this list, the increased sophistication of computers and robots that maintain these machines will drive down demand for this type of worker in the coming years. In addition, metal and plastic manufacturing has been moving overseas, contracting the industry overall. While the overall class of operators and tenders is expected to decline by 13% in the next decade, some subcategories will be likely hit harder. The subclass of workers expected to be hit worst in the next decade is of those working in molding, coremaking, and casting. The field is expected to lose one-quarter of its jobs by 2024.

2. Switchboard operators, including answering service
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 112.4
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 75.4
> Median annual wage: $26,550

Technological advances are rapidly making part or all of the occupations on this list obsolete. It is no different in the case of switchboard operators. Some 112,000 switchboard operators and answering service workers are still employed in the United States, but they face difficult prospects. The increasing sophistication of telecommunications networks is projected to drastically cut into these workers’ ranks. Between 2014 and 2024, the number of workers in this field is expected to decline by roughly one-third.

1. Postal service mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators
> Projected employment change, 2014-2024:
> 2014 employment (thousands): 117.6
> 2024 projected employment (thousands): 78.0
> Median annual wage: $54,520

About 490,000 people are currently working for the U.S. Postal Service. Some 300,000 of these handle mail delivery, and roughly 117,600 work in postal offices sorting and processing the mail. While this occupation does not require education beyond a high school diploma, it pays quite well, with a typical sorter earning nearly $55,000 annually. Unfortunately, the demand for this relatively well-compensated and accessible job is declining considerably. The BLS projects employment in the field will decline by more than a third within the next decade, even faster than the 26.2% decline among mail carriers. While it may be more difficult replace mail carriers with a machine, the increased automation in the mail room will likely push out many mail sorters.

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