Trends in U.S. Occupations

Trends in U.S. Occupations

Jobs change over time. In the early 19th century, a very large number of people were probably scrimshanders and wheelwrights. Whereas today, these are much less important occupations, at least as a percentage of workers.

But you don’t have to look back 200 years to find significant changes to the job market. With the dawn of the new decade, graduation season upon us, and the pandemic wreaking havoc on the jobs market, this is an especially interesting time to look at what jobs are popular, which ones are growing or shrinking, and wage growth (or lack thereof.)

Please note, all of the jobs explored had at least 25,000 workers as of May, 2019.

Top 10 Jobs

Let’s start by looking at just the top ten most common jobs ranked by the total number of people in those roles. These jobs occupy almost 32M Americans—more than 20% of all workers in the country. You can see Retail Salespersons were #1 every single year. Cashiers and Registered Nurses hardly moved in rank either.

How to Read This Chart: The vertical order is displaying rank only - so the most common job at the top, down to the 10th most common job at the bottom. Each year is on the horizontal, starting at 2000 on the left, ending at 2019 on the right.

While eight out of the top ten jobs in 2000 were still there in 2019, at least two pretty interesting things did happen.
Fast Food and Counter Workers jumped significantly in rank, but more importantly, the rate of employment per 1,000 people skyrocketed from 17.8 up to 27.6. That is a huge leap and would make you guess that Americans eat out a lot more now than we used to.
An even bigger story: Home Health and Personal Care Aides didn’t even crack the top 100 jobs back in 2000 and now is number 4 on the list. And this role, previously employing just 2.5 out of every 1,000 employees nationally, now accounts for a whopping 21.8 per 1,000—nearly a 9X growth in the rate of employment—by far the largest jump of any role in the data. As Boomers age, there is a huge need for caretakers for them, so this seems like a job that will continue to grow for at least another decade or two!
What other jobs are changing in terms of share of employment? Well, it depends on how you look at it.

Employment Rate Changes

This chart shows the total change in employment per 1,000 people for all jobs except those whose change was less than 0.5 in either direction. The same jobs shown earlier in our Top Ten list are still highlighted in color.

How to Read This Chart: The dots are organized on the horizontal access and are spaced by how much their employment rate per 1,000 people changed from the earliest year we have data for that job (usually 2000) through to the latest year (usually 2019.) The difference is simply subtracting one number from the other. Vertical spacing has no numerical meaning - it simply allows you to see the dots. Jobs that have changed by less than 0.5 per 1,000 have been removed.

The largest increases in employment rate change, by far, were among Home Health and Personal Care Aides; and Fast Food and Counter Workers, as mentioned previously.

And you can see 3 more of our top ten jobs are also growing significantly.

When looking at the highest rate drops, some interesting insights appear. For instance, CEOs (and their executive assistants) and General and Operations Managers are suffering significant job shrinkage…maybe due to all the M&A activity over the past 20 years? Maybe something else entirely.

And it's no surprise that Data Entry Keyers and Packers and Packagers, Hand have both gone down as technology, automation, and AI have taken away so much of their work, one assumes.

Here the horizontal axis is still showing the employment rate change per 1,000 people. But if you examine that rate change as a multiple of the original, as on the vertical axis, even more insights are visible. Dot size now indicates the total number of employees, which is also revealing.

In the group with the highest positive rate of change multiple, several are in personal care cateogry – roles like Massage Therapists; Manicurists and Pedicurists; and Skincare Specialists; as well as our huge outlier on both axes, Home Health and Personal Care Aides.

And a couple of jobs related to the booming oil industry in the U.S.

And some others that may reflect some cultural shifts, such as the massive increase in the number of Coaches and Scouts; and Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners. (Keep an eye on that last group post-virus—in-person events are a huge question mark going forward.)

You can't talk about jobs without talking about wages...

Show Me the Money

Wages are in nominal dollars, meaning they haven't been adjusted for inflation. Over 20 years, you would expect inflation to make wages go up by around 50% total, so that's our benchmark. By that benchmark, nearly half of all jobs have not kept up with inflation.

How to Read This Chart: Each row is a job category, as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each rectangle is either the category average (the first one) or a job within that category (subsequent ones.)

Median wage growth:
 <20%  20-35%  35-65%  65-80%  80+%

As you can easily see, Management Occupations have done relatively well overall. Wages have mostly increased in excess of the 50% inflation benchmark. And four of the top five and seven of the top ten, in terms of wage increases, belong in this category.

Other jobs that have landed in the top ten in wage increases are Chefs and Head Cooks, Agricultural Equipment Operators, and Executive Secretaries and Administrative Assistants (there may be fewer of them, but their pay is increasing.)

Interestingly, Computer and Mathematical Occupations, which you might expect to be a good employment category, contains a lot of jobs that have fallen short, and well short in some cases, of the 50% total inflation benchmark. Can you say "skill commoditization" and "offshoring"?

Let's look back at those top ten jobs and see how they've fared, in terms of wages. Not great, not terrible.

Of course, everything has changed...

Jobs in the Time of COVID-19

Apologies to Gabriel García Márquez, but there is no better way to say it. This entire dataset is not exactly obsolete, but boy is it going to change. The pandemic eliminated almost 17M jobs in three weeks here in the United States. Look back at the top 10 jobs by number of employees. Retail is mostly closed, restaurants are running on skeleton crews for takeout only, so think about the impact on all of these jobs, which occupies around 10% of the American workforce.

Hopefully when the economy does open up, things can return to some semblance of normal. For now, we'll have to wait to see how it all plays out, but you can bet the changes in the job market will be noticeable if the pandemic continues for as long as predictions say it might.

All data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Employment Statistics.

Occupation codes and titles change constantly and are not normalized from one year to the next in the data. Where possible and obvious, jobs were combined (e.g., the code for Registered Nurses changed in 2019, but the job title didn't change, so the two jobs were combined in the data set displayed.) However, many other jobs in the data set are not so easily matched and combined.

The data set includes all jobs in the BLS data set, not just those with more than 25,000 workers.