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All Contents © 2017The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| July 2017
The labor market is steadily improving, with unemployment at its lowest level in a decade, but some fields continue to experience a downward slide. For example, about 1.7 million manufacturing jobs were lost between January 2007 and January 2017 as some positions have been displaced by advancing technologies and others have moved overseas. And while it's true that manufacturing employment has rebounded a bit since the Great Recession ended, Josh Wright of labor market research firm Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) says many of those added positions call for technical expertise that low-skilled manufacturing workers lack.
To help today's job seekers better grasp the realities of the labor market and avoid some dying professions, we analyzed 785 popular occupations, considering their pay rates, growth potential over the next decade and educational requirements. The bottom of our rankings are littered with jobs that pay little at present and are expected to shed positions in the future. Take a look at 10 of the worst jobs for the future, along with our suggestions for alternate career paths that offer better growth and pay prospects.
Unless otherwise noted, all employment data was provided by Economic Modeling Specialists International, 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 2016. Projected ten-year job growth figures represent the percentage change in the total number of jobs in an occupation between 2016 and 2026. 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: 22,173
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: -21.2% (All jobs: 8.6%)
Median annual salary: $27,227 (All jobs: $43,233)
Typical education: High school diploma or equivalent
The manufacturing industry is a tale of two job markets. Yes, there's a decline in many production jobs in the U.S., including among setters, operators and tenders of textile knitting and weaving machines (the specific occupation for which the above tabular data applies). But while such low-skill roles are dwindling, demand for certain skilled manufacturing jobs has been on the upswing in recent years. "The positions that have remained are a little more technical, they pay a little better, and we continue to hear employers saying they have a hard time finding manufacturing talent," says EMSI's Joshua Wright.
Machinists have a particularly promising future, with their ranks growing by 11.9% by 2026. 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 receive on the job or through an apprenticeship program, vocational school or community or technical college. Machinists earn a median salary of $40,502 a year.
Total number of jobs: 23,853
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: -19.7%
Median annual salary: $27,324
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 next decade, the profession is expected to grow 12.0% to 155,286 jobs by 2026. Median earnings is currently about $30,690 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: 20,113
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: -0.7%
Median annual salary: $28,698
Typical education: High school diploma or equivalent
These woodworkers shape, finish and refinish damaged and worn furniture—a service less called for when online marketplaces and discount retailers are bringing down prices for new pieces. Furniture finishers also contribute to the production of new wooden products, handling the staining, sealing and topcoating at the end of the process. But as with many other manufacturing jobs, automation has reduced the number of workers needed to perform these tasks and limited the growth prospects for this occupation.
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 25,830 jobs, or 2.5%, by 2026. This job also pays more, with a median salary of $37,717 a year.
Total number of jobs: 33,202
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: -10.0%
Median annual salary: $32,383
Typical education: Bachelor's degree
More radio disc jockeys, talk show hosts and podcasters are under threat of being silenced. Consolidation of radio and television stations, as well as the increased use of syndicated programming, limit the need for these kinds of workers. Plus, streaming music services offer fierce competition to radio stations and their workers. On the upside, online radio stations may provide new opportunities for announcers.
If you're committed to this career track, consider addressing even smaller audiences and becoming a party DJ or emcee. These other types of announcers make up a small field of just 17,326 workers currently, but are expected to grow their ranks 6.0% by 2026. They typically earn slightly less with a median $32,177 a year, but only require a high school diploma to get started.
Total number of jobs: 53,463
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: -5.0%
Median annual salary: $23,938
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 6.0% by 2026. 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 $44,885 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 $26,557 a year and require just a high school education.
Total number of jobs: 23,111
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 2.0%
Median annual salary: $22,970
Casinos are becoming more popular and widespread as more states are allowing and building new gaming establishments. Unfortunately, many of those casinos are increasingly finding ways to use less cash in their operations. For example, many slot machines now generate tickets instead of spitting out coins. This change will contribute to the declining need for gaming cashiers in the future.
Other gaming occupations have much better odds for success. Dealers and cage workers are expected to grow 8.7% and 12.0%, respectively, over the next decade. Unfortunately, and ironically, dealers don't rake in much cash; their median salary is just $19,552 a year. Cage workers do better with $25,854 annually. Another option is to apply your cashier skills outside the casinos. Opportunities are much more plentiful: Currently 3.6 million cashiers are working across the nation, and 6.2% more are expected to be added to the workforce by 2026. The pay isn't great with a median $19,337 a year, but no formal education is required either.
Total number of jobs: 56,514
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 1.5%
Median annual salary: $20,500
It's an ugly time to be in politics. The number of positions for local, state and federal legislators rarely changes, so competition can be fierce as we've all seen on the national stage. And despite what you might think about fat-cat politicos, government paychecks for the majority of elected officials are actually pretty light. On the bright side, opportunities to enter the field arise with every election, and pay for the top 10% in the field goes up to above $95,000 a year.
You can still affect change by pursuing a career as a social and community service manager. (And you can always get back into politics from this career path; it worked for Barack Obama.) Like many of our best jobs for the future, this occupation benefits from the aging population. As boomers increasingly lean on social services, such as adult day care and meal-delivery programs, managers of such businesses will be in greater demand. In fact, the number of these managers is expected to grow 15.7% by 2026 from 149,920 currently. Plus, the median salary is much more generous at $62,349 a year. You need at least a bachelor's degree in social work, urban studies, public administration or a related field to get started. But reaching these managerial heights typically also requires relevant work experience of five years or more. And some employers prefer applicants with master's degrees.
Total number of jobs: 34,413
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: -10.3%
Median annual salary: $30,620
Although metal and plastic are durable materials, the U.S. labor market for people who work with them is not quite as stable. 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, to which the above tabular data applies—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 are expected to grow by more than 17.5% each. The median salary is also better: The operators have a median salary of about $37,024 a year, and the programmers earn a median of more than $48,984 a year.
Total number of jobs: 77,462
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: -20.3%
Median annual salary: $21,486
Typical education: No formal education
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. For example, the number of insurance sales agents is expected to increase 10.6% to 651,215 by 2026. The median pay is about $47,872 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.
Total number of jobs: 52,323
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: -10.2%
Median annual salary: $30,264
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 boost their ranks by 1.2% over the next decade. You need just a high school diploma to get started, and median earnings are $48,984 a year.
Door-to-Door Sales Worker
Textile Machine Worker
Sewing Machine Operator
Print Binding and Finishing Worker
Metal and Plastic Plating and Coating 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.
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