Where the jobs are -- and aren't

Shift to service economy reduces number of positions with higher pay

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The U.S. government counts 2.7 million people working in the fast-food business these days, a 43 percent increase from a decade ago, and hundreds of thousands of jobs have materialized for those working with small children or helping sick people stay in their homes. All those jobs have average wages ranging from $18,000 to $20,000.

The first decade of the 21st century wasn't so great, however, for the workers who do things like assemble engines, drill machines or operate shoe-making machines -- and earn an annual mean wage just above $30,000. More than half the jobs in some manufacturing occupations were lost.

And it's really not a good time to look for a position making models out of wood. Only 1,900 people in the country still do that.

Sorting through the nation's employment and wage data helps paint a picture of how the U.S. economy -- and the lifestyles of its citizens -- are changing. Each May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Occupational Employment Statistics survey, which takes a year to compile and shows the number of people employed in each of about 1,000 occupations. The Post-Gazette compared the just-released list to the survey compiled by the Bureau 10 years ago for May 1999.

The picture that comes into focus is of a shift to a service economy that has devastated the economic core of traditional middle-class jobs, replacing better-paying jobs with low-level service jobs.

Economists say that wholesale shift in the U.S. economic base has happened before.

A look back 100 years shows a country changing from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy as productivity increased in agriculture and fewer workers were needed, which allowed more people to move to factories.

Now productivity gains due to automation and the off-shoring of production to countries where wages are lower are changing the U.S. to a service economy.

"With a more open economy and trade, we get a lot of our manufactured goods produced overseas where it is cheaper to produce, rather than producing it here," said Lynn Karoly, a senior economist with Rand Corp. "It's not necessarily that we are worse off as consumers."

A change in the nature of the economy does not mean that there needs to be a wholesale routing of middle class jobs, said Heather Boushey, a senior economist with the Center for American Progress.

When, at the turn of the 20th century, the country went from an agrarian economy to an industrial one: "In the process, we went from a lot of bad jobs that became good jobs done through deliberate policies and organizing."

And, while the Internet and free trade have changed the landscape of the modern economy, she noted that other countries similarly affected by opening borders and new technologies, such as Japan, Germany and other European countries, have not seen the job shift the U.S. has seen.

"They have not seen the same rising in inequality or hollowing out of their middle class," she said.

Ms. Boushey said the decline in the number of people in manufacturing jobs does not mean the nation cannot rebuild its manufacturing base through policies that promote production, or that service workers cannot organize so that service jobs become good jobs.

"We make choices about how we think about our economy, what we are going to promote and not promote," she said.

To figure out where the money is going, follow the jobs.

As the number of retail positions grows, there are more people trying to figure out who will buy what. There were three times more market research analysts in 2009 (226,410) than a decade before.

Other changes show the shift from one-income households to two-income households.

Child care employment has increased over the decade by 58 percent to almost 600,000 jobs that pay a median wage of $21,000 a year.

Ms. Karoly said as more women work, more of the work that was done in the home is done elsewhere.

"Now households outsource work," she said. "I get takeout and send laundry out. Child care is a part of that because more women are working."

Personal and home care aides, work that used to be done for sick relatives by family, is also a job category in which the employment has more than doubled to more than 630,000 jobs as people don't have the same time to care for their loved ones. Those workers are earning about $20,000 a year.

The growth in the fast-food sector and other growth seen in restaurants in general is another manifestation of outsourcing household work.

Meanwhile those occupations for people who produce things are in decline.

Over the last decade, the nation has lost more than half of the jobs for people who work forging machines, drilling and boring machines and who assemble engines and other machines -- jobs that earn a bit more than $30,000 a year.

Fewer than 4,000 people now operate shoe-making machines and just 13,000 are operating fabric bleaching and dying machines. Tool and die makers, who make about $48,000 a year, wood pattern makers ($38,000 annually) and book binders (paying $33,000 a year) also have seen huge decreases in employment.

There are now only 2,260 people employed assembling, adjusting or calibrating timing devices in the country.

For all the talk of the growing number of health care jobs, a comparison look at 10 years of data shows the greatest growth has been in the lower paid positions in that industry, such as home health aid and medical assistants who make $21,620 and $29,450 a year respectively.

Employment for registered nurses, while providing 2.6 million jobs, has not grown much over the past 10 years. Those jobs pay about $66,500 a year.

This year's report showed the top employment categories have not changed much.

Retail takes the top two spots in terms of highest number of jobs with the U.S. now home to 4.4 million retail salespeople and 3.4 million cashiers. Ms. Boushey said in some ways the category itself is outsized, because while manufacturing jobs are sliced into specific jobs, retail sales is all lumped together as if selling cars is the same as selling socks.

The report also shows that nine of the 10 most plentiful jobs provide annual incomes so low they are within the federal poverty income guidelines for a family of four.

They also tend to be occupations that are dominated by women, said Ms. Boushey, the Center for American Progress economist.

Wages paid by those jobs, however, are not a reflection of overall family incomes, said Rand's Ms. Karoly, (one of 13,160 economists in the country).

"There's a bit of a translation," she said, because workers in lower wage jobs often have two wage-earners in the family or work multiple jobs or both.

Some higher wage service jobs also have seen growth.

Auditors and accountants, who earn an average salary of $67,430 to count the goods we are no longer making, rose from 843,000 to 1.1 million.

Some changes can be seen the way we move ourselves and goods. More people (9,290) were fixing bicycles than in the report released 10 years ago and the number of locomotive engineers has risen from 19,940 in 1999 to 43,560 in the most recent report.

In a country with 641,000 police and sheriff's patrol officers, there are 1 million private security guards. Those police officers have made enough arrests to keep 455,350 correctional officers employed, which is up by 19 percent over the decade.

The number of professional athletes has barely risen from 10,620 to 13,620, but the number of paid coaches and scouts finding and training those people has gone from 65,820 to 179,830.

As for the media that delivers this information? Where there were 64,590 reporters, correspondents and news analysts in 1999, that has dropped to 46,000 reporters and correspondents and 5,800 broadcast news analysts.

Radio and television announcers also became a more exclusive club, dropping from 50,000 to 35,000, while technical writers and authors stayed fairly static.

Yet, no surprise to the average reporter, there are now more editors, up by almost 10,000 to 105,000.

And the number of public relations specialists -- those people who contact reporters to try to get stories written -- has exploded. The government counts 243,000 people in those jobs, up from 118,000 a decade earlier.


Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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