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10 Disappearing Middle Class Jobs

Mark Lieberman

The United States shed 8.7 million jobs from the official onset of the Great Recession in December 2007 until the economy began regaining jobs in March 2010. Although the economy has since regained all jobs lost, some occupations are shrinking.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed traditionally middle class occupations that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are expected to contract in the 2012-22 period. These jobs often require no more than an associate degree and tend to offer only minimal to moderate on-the-job training.

The jobs that are projected to shrink range from office-related occupations such as couriers and messengers, word processors, and switchboard operators to light manufacturing machinists such as extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders who work with metal and plastic.

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“A lot of these jobs are disappearing because in part of the increased use of the Internet and company intranets,” observed Martin Kohli, chief regional economist at the BLS.

Even relatively newer technologies such as word processing, data entry clerks, and computer operators are being replaced by improved software and processes. About a quarter of word processing and data entry jobs and one of every six computer operator positions are expected to be eliminated in the decade ending in 2022.

According to Kohli, many tech jobs -- including data entry keyers and computer operators -- were created to work with mainframe computers, which themselves are declining in popularity.

Non-tech, courier and messenger jobs, he added are being supplanted by an increasing use of email attachments -- but not all messenger jobs are disappearing.

“There really are not as many bicycle messengers as there used to be although there certainly seem to be more bicycle food delivery people,” Kohli said. “You can’t get [food] through an email attachment.”

Other occupations likely to contract involve jobs being done increasingly by customers. Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks, generally airline employees Kohli said, fall into this category as airlines are encouraging passengers to make their own reservations and print their own tickets, a trend also emerging in entertainment.

At the top of the list, the number of postal service clerks is expected to shrink by nearly one-third, a reminder of the ongoing U.S. Postal Service fiscal crisis. Also, the result of the growth of email and electronic bill paying as well as a growth in e-zines, electronic versions of what had been print magazines, all of which combine to decrease mail volume.

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To identify the middle skill jobs disappearing the fastest, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 359 middle-skill occupations classified by the BLS with the largest projected employment percentage change from 2012 through 2022. We also considered nominal employment change estimates over that period, as well as the job openings due to growth and replacement needs from the BLS. Worker characteristics, such as median annual wages, typical education needed for entry, and on-the-job training needed to reach competency came from the Occupational Outlook Handbook. We excluded categories that were similar. 24/7 Wall St. further narrowed the analysis by only considering occupations with 50,000 or more workers.

These are ten disappearing middle class jobs.

10. Couriers and messengers
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -11.1%
> 2012 employment: 98,200
> 2012 median annual wage: $25,440

Couriers and messengers pick up and deliver messages, documents, packages, and other items between offices either within an establishment or to other businesses. Couriers generally travel by foot, bicycle or a motorized vehicle such as motorcycle, automobile, or public transit. Couriers and messengers typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. The number of courier and messenger jobs, many of which have been replaced by the increasing use of email, is expected to decline by almost 11,000 through 2022, a drop of slightly more than 11% from current levels.

9. Switchboard operators, including answering service
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -13.2%
> 2012 employment: 131,000
> 2012 median annual wage: $25,370

Entry-level switchboard operators generally require a high school diploma or equivalent and undergo on-the-job training. The job itself entails operating business telephone systems equipment or switchboards to pass on external and internal calls. Some operators also provide information to callers and take messages. They are often the first point of contact a customer or vendor has with a business and thus provide the critical first impression of a company. The number of jobs is expected to decline 17,300 through 2022. The vast majority of the decline is likely the result of an increasing use of direct extensions and automated answering systems.

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8. Reservation agents and travel clerks
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -14.0%
> 2012 employment: 139,100
> 2012 median annual wage: $32,400

Reservation and transportation ticket agents and ticket clerks are the direct contact between travelers and carriers, such as airlines, railroads and buses. Their role is to place ticket orders, and sometimes assist travelers with checking baggage. Carriers are now encouraging passengers to do these tasks themselves online. Unlike travel agents who also offer advice on destinations and help plan itineraries, ticket agents and clerks only make and confirm reservations for transportation or lodging and sell transportation tickets. These jobs require a high school diploma or equivalent. Newly hired agents and clerks also generally receive on-the-job training.

7. Door-to-door sales workers and news and street vendors
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -15.3%
> 2012 employment: 92,700
> 2012 median annual wage: $21,470

With the increasing popularity of online shopping and decreasing sales of newspapers and magazines, door-to-door sales workers and news vendors are a declining occupation. These salespeople hawk their wares either door-to-door or at street newsstands. In some localities, such as New York City, street vendors must be licensed with preference given to disabled veterans. The number of door-to-door sales workers and news and street vendors, who need only a high school diploma or equivalent, is expected to decline nationally 19,500 through 2022.

6. Extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and tenders
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -15.9%
> 2012 employment: 74,900
> 2012 median annual wage: $32,330

The workers in this occupation generally set up metal and plastic machines that cut, shape and form metal and plastic pieces and materials. Like many other declining occupations, these tasks are now frequently automated with the use of computer-controlled machinery. In response to the pressure to increase efficiency, computer control programmers are frequently hired instead of machine setters. Although this occupation involves using specialized machinery, it requires a high school diploma or equivalent with moderate-term on-the-job training. The number of these jobs is expected to drop 11,900 through 2022.

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5. Information and record clerks
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -16.7%
2012 employment: 188,900
2012 median annual wage: $37,240

Information clerks perform routine clerical chores such as maintaining records and files, collecting and maintaining data, and assisting both internal and external customers with information. The job generally requires no more than a high school diploma and involves short-term on-the-job training. By 2022, the number of information and record clerk positions is expected to decline by 16,700 jobs, as more and more of these clerical chores are automated through the use of computerized retrieval or filing systems.

4. Computer operators
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -17.0%
> 2012 employment: 74,600
> 2012 median annual wage: $38,390

Even as computers have become nearly ubiquitous in offices and in homes, the number of dedicated computer operators is expected to decline 12,700 through 2022. These workers monitor and control computers and peripheral data processing equipment for business, scientific, engineering, and other applications. These operators respond to complaints of personal computer and mainframe malfunctions. With the continued increase in computer operation outsourcing, the number of computer operator positions is expected to decline 17.0%, or about 12,700 positions, through 2022. Computer operators have the highest salary of the private sector occupations most likely to decline through the end of 2022.

3. Data entry keyers
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -24.6%
> 2012 employment: 220,300
> 2012 median annual wage: $28,010

More data entry keyer jobs are projected to be eliminated than all but one of the 359 middle skill jobs reviewed by the BLS. The number of people working in the occupation is expected to decline 54,200 through 2022, or by 24.6%. Data entry keyers operate data entry devices, such as keyboards, and sometimes verify data and prepare materials for printing. Many data entry keyer positions are being supplanted by improved technology such as voice recognition technology, which allows the spoken word to go directly to a computer screen or document. There were more people employed as data entry keyers in 2012 than in any other of the top 10 middle skill occupations expected to decline through 2022.

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2. Word processors and typists
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -25.1%
> 2012 employment: 104,400
> 2012 median annual wage: $35,270

The ranks of word processors and typists, who have jobs similar to data entry keyers, will dwindle through 2022 for many of the same reasons. The number of word processors and typists is expected to drop 25.1% -- the second largest percentage decline of middle skill occupations 2022. Part of the reason is executives and others who had relied on typists are now doing their own typing and word processing. These jobs carry a median annual salary second only to postal clerks and computer operators among the top private sector jobs expected to decline through 2022. The number of word processor and typist jobs is expected to decline by 26,200.

1. Postal service clerks
> Projected employment change, 2012-2022:
: -31.8%
> 2012 employment: 66,900
> 2012 median annual wage: $53,090

Topping the list of middle skill jobs likely to decline through 2022 is postal service clerks, who also happen to be the highest paid, earning almost $15,000 more annually than the second highest paid workers on the list. Postal service clerks perform a wide range of tasks such as receiving letters and parcels; selling stamps, post cards, and stamped envelopes; filling out and selling money orders; sorting mail and checking mail for correct postage. The jobs, though, are threatened as the U.S. Postal Service continues to run an operating deficit despite increasing revenues. The number of postal clerk jobs is expected to shrink from 66,900 in 2012 to 45,700 clerks by 2022.

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