10 of the Worst Jobs for the Future

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Although the nation's employment rate is slowly improving, certain occupations are still suffering — and will continue to suffer for the remainder of the decade and beyond. Here you'll find ten job fields that are projected to lose large numbers of positions at rapid rates through 2020. Pay prospects are also subpar. To lend a hand to at-risk workers in these fields, we've also identified viable career alternatives.

We looked at employment projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to pinpoint the occupations that are expected to see some of the largest job losses at the fastest rates. BLS also supplied data on changes in median incomes. Salaries are for workers in the 25th to 75th percentiles, a range we chose to weed out the highest and lowest earners. We selected fields regardless of education requirements, which, as you’ll see, exposed the vulnerability of several blue-collar professions.

[More from Kiplinger: 10 of the Best Jobs for the Future]

Some of the jobs on our worst list might come as a surprise. Others reflect recognizable trends including advances in automated technologies, shifts to online services and overseas outsourcing. Take a look.

1. Post Office Clerk

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Total number of U.S. workers (most recent data): 65,600
10-year growth projection: -48.2% (all occupations: +14.3%)
Annual salary range: $53,090-$54,260 (all occupations: $22,380-$55,470)
Typical education: high school diploma or equivalent

Despite boasting the highest pay of all the jobs on this list, post office clerks have the worst prospects. The U.S. Postal Service has been losing business steadily to other delivery options, including private delivery companies and the Internet. While the post office has been trying to recover — including plans to end regular mail service on Saturdays — bigger staff cuts appear to be all but inevitable, BLS says.

The BLS expects employment of all postal workers to fall 26.4% this decade. In addition to clerks, who provide customer service at post offices, mail sorters and processors are projected to suffer a huge employment loss of 48.5%. Mail carriers will fare somewhat better, with just a 12% drop in numbers, as well as the highest pay potential of postal workers with a salary range of $46,990 to $55,530.

Alternate career: Demand for mail clerks is growing outside the postal service, but those jobs pay about half of what the post office does. A better bet is to become a shipping and receiving clerk for a government agency. Some of the duties are similar, and the average pay is about $45,000 a year.

2. Switchboard Operator/Call Receptionist

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Total number of U.S. workers: 142,500
10-year growth projection: -23.3%
Annual salary range: $21,000 to $30,730
Typical education: high school diploma or equivalent

Automated answering services are rapidly replacing their human predecessors as switchboard operators, and the trend shows no signs of flagging. Note: These are not call center jobs. These are the people who answer the phone for businesses.

Alternate career: As a customer-service representative, you can still assist people over the phone, and you'll likely get paid a little better — about $30,500 a year, the BLS says. Or if you'd rather do the dialing, bill collectors have a promising future, with demand expected to rise by 14.2%. Median annual pay is $31,920.

3. Semiconductor Processor

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Total number of U.S. workers: 21,100
10-year growth projection: -17.9%
Annual salary range: $27,020 to $39,260
Typical education: associate's degree

U.S. manufacturing as a whole is projected to experience employment growth of about 4% this decade. But certain manufacturing jobs are less promising because much of the work can be done more efficiently by machines or more affordably abroad. Semiconductor processors, who oversee the production of microchips, are being replaced by robots, which are more adept at working on the increasingly smaller chips and maintaining a sterile work environment. Another production job that ranked poorly is electronic equipment assembler.

[More from Kiplinger: 10 Best College Majors for Your Career]

Alternate career: Consider becoming an electronic engineering technician. Like a semiconductor processor, the position typically requires an associate's degree, as well as manual dexterity, critical-thinking skills and a propensity for math and science. But demand for electronic engineering technicians is projected to grow slightly, with more opportunities arising in the computer systems design services industry.

4. Sewing Machine Operator

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Total number of U.S. workers: 163,200
10-year growth projection: -25.8%
Annual salary range: $18,250 to $26,520
Typical education: less than a high school degree

Clothing, textile and furniture production jobs are all under stress, with demand for worker services expected to drop by 9.6% by 2020. Sewing-machine operators will be among those suffering the worst job losses, as will shoe, knitting and weaving, and fabric-cutting machine operators. Some of these workers' functions are becoming more automated. And many companies try to cut costs by sending these jobs overseas.

Alternate career: Custom sewers and tailors are projected to fare better, expecting a small but positive growth rate of 2%. They're still vulnerable to losing jobs to overseas workers. But people who make bespoke products and provide custom fits — though not exactly in high demand, as consumers continue to pinch pennies — should maintain a reasonable client base among upscale shops and higher earners.

5. Printing Press Technician

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Total number of U.S. workers: 50,800
10-year growth projection: -15.9%
Annual salary range: $28,910 to $46,800
Typical education: some postsecondary training

The phrase "Stop the presses!" is taking on a whole new meaning as more readers reach for digital versions of books, newspapers and magazines. As such, workers at various rungs of the printing process are facing a drop in demand. Prepress technicians, who prepare publications for the printing press, are particularly vulnerable as their functions are becoming more automated or being picked up by office employees.

Alternate career: Switch from paper to plastic…or metal. Workers who operate machines that cut, shape and form metal and plastic materials are looking toward a more prosperous future with demand for their roles expected to grow by 7.9%. Computer-controlled machine operators should see the biggest jump in numbers, with an expected growth rate of 19.2%. But the work environment may be louder and more dangerous.

6. Desktop Publisher

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Total number of U.S. workers: 22,600
10-year growth projection: -14.7%
Annual salary range: $28,630 to $47,320
Typical education: associate's degree

Another casualty of the print industry's struggles, desktop publishers are quickly losing their seats. Improved publishing software is making it easier and more affordable for other individuals to perform the functions of a desktop publisher, including laying out the design for printed materials such as brochures and mailers. Companies may also increasingly outsource these tasks in an effort to cut costs.

Alternate careers: You can make use of your desktop savvy by working with engineers and architects. As a drafter, you'd create technical drawings and plans based on their designs. The annual pay is about $47,250 a year, and demand for these workers is expected to increase by 5.6%.

If you'd rather stay in publishing, graphic designers are more sought after and the pay is more rewarding, ranging from $33,410 to $59,410 a year. But you typically need a bachelor's degree to get started in this field.

7. Door-to-Door Salesman

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Total number of U.S. workers: 153,800
10-year growth projection: -7.5%
Annual salary range: $18,680 to $31,260
Typical education: high school diploma or equivalent

Better dramatized by science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick than Arthur Miller, the story of the traveling salesman's demise comes down 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 an enormously inefficient way to push products. And the people once charged with doing so are being replaced by solicitations broadcast via Web sites, e-mails, Facebook and other digital dealers.

[More from Kiplinger: 10 States with the Biggest Job Growth in 2013]

Alternate career: You can employ your sales skills, maintain your independence and still wander door-to-door as a real estate agent. Plus, you'd be poised to earn more, with a median pay of about $39,070 a year. And demand for real estate agents and brokers is expected to increase by 11.3%.

8. Floral Designer

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Total number of U.S. workers: 66,500
10-year growth projection: -9.3%
Annual salary range: $19,360 to $29,650
Typical education: high school diploma or equivalent

Future job prospects are wilting for floral designers. Still reeling from the recession, budget-conscious consumers are opting to buy loose fresh-cut flowers from grocery stores instead of elaborate bouquets and arrangements from florists. So if your heart is set on a floral-focused future, look for a position with a general store instead of a stand-alone flower shop; demand for floral designers in such locations is expected to increase by 8%.

Alternate career: Try applying your keen eye for design to merchandise displays inside shops, in store windows and at trade shows. As a merchandise displayer, you'd likely have to expand beyond flowers. But you'd be in higher demand — these positions are projected to increase by 12.8% this decade — and have the opportunity for higher pay ($20,430 to $33,850 a year).

9. Journalism Reporter

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Total number of U.S. workers: 51,900
10-year growth projection: -7.5%
Annual salary range: $25,720-$51,050
Typical education: bachelor's degree

The ongoing shift toward the digital consumption of news continues to pressure newspaper and magazine publishers, as well as television and radio broadcasters. While it's true that more money is being earned online as a result, it's not enough to offset the revenue lost to circulation and viewership declines. Adding to reporters' woes, the rise of media conglomerates has shrunk the number of positions as newsrooms have merged.

Alternate careers: Try jumping on the other end of the press release, and pick up a gig in public relations. As a PR specialist, you'd still be in media and communications, but you'd be in much higher demand and earn more than your journalistic counterparts; salaries range from $39,560 to $72,840.

If you're set on staying in journalism, consider a switch to broadcast news analyst. You can work on-air as a newscaster or behind the scenes as a news director. Broadcast news analysts are paid better than reporters and are expected to add 10.2% more positions this decade.

10. Jeweler

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Total number of U.S. workers: 39,200
10-year growth projection: -5.2%
Annual salary range: $25,580 to $46,080
Typical education: high school diploma or equivalent

Demand for domestic jewelry workers, who may do everything from re-size rings to polish precious stones, will decline as low-skill tasks are increasingly shipped overseas. Jewelry stores also face outside competition from department stores and other retailers.

If bling is your thing, you'll have a better shot in the business if you've graduated from a jeweler training program and are particularly skilled in sizing, cleaning and repairing jewelry. Find out more about education programs through the Gemological Institute of America.

Alternate career: As an interior designer, you can still make good use of your eye for décor and, even better, you'll see a sparkly employment outlook with an expected growth in demand of 19.3%. You would need additional education — usually a bachelor's degree — and possibly a license or certification, depending on your state and specialty. But you could also expect to earn more as interior designers have a median pay of $47,620 a year, the BLS says.

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