After years of bad news, recent U.S. job reports suggest market stabilization. Employment rose by 243,000 in January, and the unemployment rate decreased by 0.2% to 8.3%.
“We are seeing several signs that the economy is on a better track,” says Gautam Godhwani, chief executive of SimplyHired.com, a job search engine with 17 million monthly users. “The recovery has momentum.”
However, as the economy reorganizes, some once-steady career paths are being outsourced, replaced or eliminated. Based on new projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS), we examined the 20 fastest-declining jobs through 2020. The list is dominated by agricultural, production, and administrative support occupations—adding to a growing pile of careers headed for the dustbin.
The biggest projected losers are farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers. The occupation tops the list with an expected decline of 96,100 jobs, or 8%, by 2020. In fact, the agricultural industry has been steadily eroding for years. Between 2000 and 2010, the sector (including agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting) contracted by 260,700 jobs.
“What we’re seeing now is global specialization, with the U.S. economy shifting towards services and technology,” says Godhwani. “Anything where the U.S. is not going to be the best, you’ll see the jobs leaving. We can now import food from all over the world.”
The new global economy also means that unskilled manufacturing jobs that require little to no education are also being displaced to other parts of the globe. Sewing machine operators (No. 3) are projected to decline by 42,100 jobs, or 26%. Meanwhile, electrical and electronic equipment assemblers (No. 11) will fall by 6% and prepress technicians and workers (No. 13) by 16%.
Broader changes in technology are also wreaking havoc in the ranks of federal government, home to three of the 20 industries declining the quickest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest job losses are projected for the U.S. Postal Service. On the decline are Postal Service mail sorters and processors, carriers, clerks, and postmasters and mail superintendents—facing a total loss of 182,000 jobs. Some functions, like mail sorting, will contract by nearly 50%.
“This is a segment where we’re seeing the impact of the digital revolution,” Godhwani says. He notes that as communication platforms multiply and traditional media splinters, there is less and less demand for these services.
Office and administrative workers will also be hit hard in the coming years. Technology advances have enabled modern professionals to take charge of their own typing, filing and phone calls. Thus, switchboard operators (No. 4) will decrease by 23%, data entry keyers (No. 7) by 7%, word processors and typists (No. 8) by 12%, and file clerks (No. 12) by 5%.
Most of the 20 disappearing jobs—including yet unmentioned fast food cooks (No. 5), door-to-door salespeople (No. 9) and florists (No. 18)—require only a high school degree or its equivalent. However, occupations that require post-secondary education are expected to grow the fastest, with jobs needing a master’s degree projected to increase by 22%, a doctoral or professional degree by 20%, and associate’s degree by 18%.
According to Godhwani, displaced workers should consider pursuing more education if able, noting that certificates and associates degree will provide the best value. He also suggests searching for work based on skills rather than job titles in high-growth industries.
The BLS projects health care services, personal care and social assistance, and construction will experience the fastest growth through 2020. (Construction is rebuilding to pre-recession levels but is not expected to regain all jobs lost.) The fastest-growing occupations include registered nurses, retail salespeople and home health aides.