The unemployment rate is declining yet Americans know the job market is not as strong as it should be. Nor is the middle class, of which President Obama speaks so fondly, growing under his watch. What’s going on? Middle class jobs are vanishing – not likely to return.
Since the start of the recession some 8.7 million jobs have been shed from the economy from December 2007 until March 2010. All sectors have suffered, but some occupations have been hurt more than others.
A review of traditional middle class jobs from data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that over the next decade, the economy is poised to shed hundreds of thousands jobs or more. These are positions that require as little as an associates’ degree and little on-the-job training and thus are entry level jobs for people to begin careers. They include office jobs such as word processors and switch board operators as well as light manufacturing jobs. Many of these jobs are becoming obsolete.
Some middle class jobs are being lost because regulation and high taxes make hiring harder, but some are being lost because of innovation, which is a good thing. Innovation creates different kinds of jobs in new industries.
For example, there will be fewer jobs for postal service clerks (with a median annual wage of $53,000); the projected decline in the number of postal clerks is 32 percent. Technology has changed the need for “snail mail”; we share information in various ways digitally that cut down on the costs and time. We no longer need as many postal service workers.
Some will clamor that we need to save these jobs, but we should be thinking of ways to make the economy more dynamic so that innovators will create new kinds of jobs for the people whose industries have been supplanted.
"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.
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…
Technology is making production more efficient. Automation, online tools, and electronic transfer of information are a welcome change to the manual way with which we've operated. While this means that many workers will suffer dislocations, this will be temporary if—and only if—the economy is able to throw up new entrepreneurs and new kinds of jobs.
This is not a unique circumstance, but our generation is experiencing firsthand revolutionary changes in our economy society. Like the Industrial Age replacing mercantilism, the Information Age is moving us into a new frontier. Progress is good for society. Life became so much better when mass production changed manufacturing, it'll continue to change as our interactions, production, and activity takes place unseen online.
Policy solutions then should focus on encouraging people to go out and create new opportunities. Nobody is upset because we no longer hire Pony Express riders, and the descendants of those displaced riders can thrive in new kinds of industries.