Special Report

17 Disappearing Middle Class Jobs

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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