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All Contents © 2017The Kiplinger Washington Editors
The labor market is steadily improving, with U.S. unemployment at its lowest level since 2008, yet some occupations continue to experience a downward slide. Careers in the manufacturing sector, for example, have been disappearing for decades as plants become more efficient and jobs move to factories overseas. Other careers are falling victim to changing tastes and changing technologies.
To help job seekers avoid some of these dying professions, we analyzed 784 popular occupations, looking at which have been shedding positions over the past decade and which are projected to continue that trend into the next decade. We considered salaries, too, and favored promising careers that require less education to get started. After all, a job that doesn't require a college degree costs less in student loans and earns you a paycheck faster. And for the jobs that landed in the bottom of our rankings, we suggest alternate careers with better growth and pay prospects.
Take a look at 10 of the worst jobs for the future.
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| Updated 2016
Unless otherwise noted, all employment data was provided by Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), a labor-market research firm owned by CareerBuilder. EMSI collects data from more than 90 federal, state and private sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total number of jobs listed for each occupation is for 2015. Ten-year job-growth figures, both historical and projected, represent the percentage change in the total number of jobs in an occupation between the start of the period and the end of the period. Annual earnings were calculated by multiplying median hourly earnings by 2,080, the standard number of hours worked in a year by a full-time employee.
Total number of jobs: 82,275
Job growth, 2005-2015: -28.7% (All jobs: 5.3%)
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -22.7% (All jobs: 11.0%)
Median annual salary: $20,732 (All jobs: $43,430)
Typical education: High school diploma or equivalent
Better dramatized by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick than playwright Arthur Miller, the death of the traveling salesman can be chalked up to advancing technology. When businesses are able to contact millions of customers online with the press of a button, going door-to-door has become a very inefficient way to push products. And the people once charged with doing so are being replaced by solicitations broadcast via websites, e-mail and social media outlets.
Your sales skills are better applied in less-nomadic positions. The number of insurance sales agents has increased 19.2% over the past 10 years, and another 63,780 positions are expected by 2025. The median pay is about $49,000 a year, and the entry-level education requirement is just a high school diploma, though you will also need to get a license to sell insurance in the state where you work. If you have a bachelor's degree, becoming a manufacturing sales representative, who sells goods to businesses, government agencies and other organizations, holds even more promise. This job's numbers are expected to grow by 12.5% over the next decade, and the median salary is nearly $74,800 a year.
Total number of jobs: 26,639
Job growth, 2005-2015: -42.3%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -12.1%
Median annual salary: $26,077
The manufacturing industry is a tale of two job markets. You may have heard about the decline of certain production jobs in the U.S., including among textile winding, twisting and drawing out machine setters, operator and tenders (the specific occupation for which the above data applies). But while such low-skill roles are dwindling, manufacturing jobs overall have actually been increasing in recent years, says Joshua Wright, of Economic Modeling Specialists International, a labor-market research firm owned by CareerBuilder. In fact, while production jobs have fallen 9.7% over the past decade, they are expected to recover some, adding 3.6% over the next decade.
Machinists have a particularly promising future, with their ranks growing by 11.4% by 2025. These workers use machine tools such as lathes, milling machines and grinders to make items ranging from simple bolts to titanium bone screws for orthopedic implants. While you can still get this gig with just a high school diploma, you also need specialized training, which you can get on the job or through an apprenticeship program, vocational school or community or technical college. Machinists earn a median salary of $40,332 a year.
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Total number of jobs: 54,520
Job growth, 2005-2015: -25.6%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -16.6%
Median annual salary: $24,066
For floral designers, the bloom has fallen off the rose. After a surge of new flower-shop openings in the 1980s and '90s, their numbers have fallen dramatically. Blame budget-conscious consumers, who are opting to buy loose, fresh-cut flowers from grocery stores instead of elaborate bouquets and arrangements from florists. Plus, the rise of the Internet has allowed some florists to operate more efficiently and reduce the number of brick-and-mortar shops.
If your heart is set on a floral-focused future, apply for a position at a grocery store, where employment of floral designers is expected to grow 5%. Otherwise, consider casting your eye for arrangement from flowers to furniture. Positions for interior designers are expected to grow 10.5% by 2025. To take this path, you'll need additional education—usually a bachelor's degree—and possibly a license or certification, depending on your state and specialty. But you may also expect to earn more; interior designers have a median pay of more than $45,300 a year. If further education isn't in the cards for you, consider being a merchandise displayer. These positions are projected to increase by 12.1% this decade, typically pay about $26,500 a year and require just a high school education.
Total number of jobs: 158,164
Job growth, 2005-2015: -30.6%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -16.1%
Median annual salary: $23,654
Low-skill manufacturing jobs, including sewing machine operators, are being replaced by cheaper substitutes. Advancing technology is displacing some of these workers as their functions are becoming more automated. And while China's recent economic problems have begun bringing some of this work back to the U.S., many companies are continuing to try cutting costs by sending these jobs overseas.
Consider applying your mending skills to metal instead of fabric. Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers—who use handheld or remotely controlled equipment to join or cut metal parts—are keeping it together better than sewing machine operators. Over the past decade, their numbers declined just 3.6%, to about 402,900 in 2015. And they're expected to recover those losses and then some, growing at a rate of 8.8% through 2025. Median earnings are about $38,000 a year.
Total number of jobs: 50,688
Job growth, 2005-2015: -29.5%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -8.7%
Median annual salary: $30,286
Print may not be dead, but it seems to require much less upkeep these days. Far fewer workers are needed to bind and finish books and other publications than were employed a decade ago. The relatively good news is that the rate of loss seems to be tapering off now that the number of workers is so low.
Putting your finishing touch on another career path may be a safer move. Certain assemblers and fabricators—who put together finished products, such as engines, computers and toys, and the parts that go into them—have better prospects. Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging and systems assemblers are projected to have particularly stable careers. Over the past decade, their numbers have taken off at a rate of 26.9%, to nearly 40,600 workers. By 2025, they're expected to rise another 15.8%. You need just a high school diploma to get started, and median earnings are $49,762 a year.
Total number of jobs: 42,058
Job growth, 2005-2015: -17.1%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -5.3%
Median annual salary: $25,475
Typical education: Less than high school
A career as a tailor might not be the best fit for anyone right now. The rise of fast fashion and online shopping, and the fall of formal wear, all contribute to the declining demand for tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers—who typically work in clothing stores and at dry cleaners. "A tailor is kind of an old-school type of occupation," says EMSI’s Wright. "As more people buy clothes online and also dress more casually, there's just less demand for that type of service."
Using your steady hands to work on hair rather than fabric might suit your future better. The number of barbers and hairdressers is expected to grow by 6.1% and 12.2%, respectively, by 2025. Unfortunately, the median pay for these workers is on the low side: about $22,390 and $23,100 a year, respectively. But you may opt to be your own boss with these professions; 50.2% of hairdressers and 78.5% of barbers are self-employed.
Total number of jobs: 41,272
Job growth, 2005-2015: -25.4%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -3.3%
Median annual salary: $30,023
Online marketplaces and discount retailers are bringing down furniture prices—and the demand for upholsterers with them. "As people are able to buy furniture at lower prices online or in stores like Ikea, they're tending to replace things instead of repair them," says Wright. He also notes that people might opt to save money by getting a new sofa cover instead of paying for new custom upholstery.
If you can apply your handiwork more broadly, becoming a carpenter may offer a sturdier future. While this position suffered high employment losses over the past decade, which included the housing bust, it’s expected to add more than 70,700 jobs, or 6.9%, by 2025. This job also pays more, with a median salary of $38,521 a year.
Total number of jobs: 28,058
Job growth, 2005-2015: -7.4%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: 2.9%
Median annual salary: $15,766
Looks like your Etsy shop might still work best as a side business. Craft artists—who create functional pieces of pottery, glassware, textiles and other materials—have less-than-beautiful full-time career prospects. But the picture is improving: While their numbers have dropped over the past decade, projections show that they'll experience slight growth in the years ahead. However, art is rarely a lucrative pursuit—and profitability largely depends on the state of the economy and whether consumers can afford handmade crafts.
You can certainly find ways to profit from your passion. But if you're hoping for a more stable full-time gig, consider becoming a teacher instead. Preschool, kindergarten, elementary school and middle school teachers are all expected to be in high demand for the next decade, growing their numbers by more than 14%. High school teachers also have good prospects, projected to add more than 82,000 new positions to their ranks by 2025. You can become a preschool teacher with an associate's degree and earn a greater median salary—more than $28,300 a year—than a typical craft artist. To teach kindergarten through high school, you need a bachelor's degree and can earn a median salary between $52,600 and $58,430 a year (the higher the grade you teach, the higher the typical pay).
Total number of jobs: 29,689
Job growth, 2005-2015: -7.0%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -1.2%
Median annual salary: $26,927
The rapid proliferation of digital photos, and photo sharing through cyberspace, are cutting demand for print pictures and the people who operate the big machines that process them. Plus, when the whim arises, advancing technology has allowed people to print their own photos at home.
Photographers are seeing a better career outlook than photo processors. Over the past 10 years, the profession has experienced slow growth, at a rate of just 3.6%. But that pace is expected to quicken to 12.7% over the next decade, and projections show that there will be more than 148,400 photographer jobs by 2025. Median earnings are currently about $30,715 a year. Portrait and commercial photographers (who may work for corporations to create advertisements) are likely to experience the greatest demand.
Total number of jobs: 35,937
Job growth, 2005-2015: -12.9%
Projected job growth, 2015-2025: -3.2%
Median annual salary: $30,592
Although metal and plastic are durable materials, the U.S. labor market for people who work with them is not quite as sturdy. Many of the old metal- and plastic-production jobs are now being done more efficiently by machines or more affordably abroad. Lower-skill positions that involve manually setting and operating machines—including plating and coating machines—are becoming increasingly scarce.
While less-skilled manufacturing jobs are declining, more high-tech positions within the industry are on the rise. Indeed, the number of operators of computer-controlled metal and plastic machines and programmers of computer numerically controlled metal and plastic machines has increased by 3.6% and 12.4%, respectively, over the past decade. By 2025, the number of jobs is expected to grow by 15.9% and 24.2%, respectively. The median salary is also better: The operators have a median salary of about $37,100 a year, and the programmers earn a median of more than $49,000 a year.
Door-to-Door Sales Worker
Woodworking Machine Operator
Metal and Plastic Molding Machine Operator
Sewing Machine Operator
Kiplinger updates many of its rankings annually. Above is last year's list of 10 of the worst jobs for the future. Keep in mind that ranking methodologies can change from year to year based on data available at the time of publishing, differences in how the data was gathered, changes in data providers and tweaks to the formulas used to narrow the pool of candidates.
Office Machine Operator
Data Entry Clerk
Electronic Equipment Assembler
Metal and Plastic Grinding Tool Operator
Post Office Clerk
Sewing Machine Operator
Printing Press Technician
Door-to-Door Sales worker
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