Monday, January 4, 2010
This month we begin a new decade with a big economic question: Where are the jobs?
The first decade of this century ended as a disaster for employment. Since the recession began two years ago, the U.S. has lost more than 7 million jobs.
Just to regain the jobs we've lost will be a huge challenge, says Harvard University labor economist Lawrence Katz. "We would need well over 300,000 [jobs] a month for four years in a row just to make up what we've lost in the last couple of years," Katz says.
He says there are very few periods in U.S. history when job growth has been that strong.
"So we're in a very deep hole," Katz says. "A normal recovery will not get us there for a very long time."
Jobs On The Horizon
Katz thinks it could take half a decade or more just to get to the employment levels we had two years ago. Still, he expects that during this new decade, the U.S. economy will eventually create 15 million new jobs, with the unemployment rate falling to around 5 percent.
The real question, he says, is what kind of jobs they'll be. "The worrisome trend is something I've called the polarization of the labor market."
Katz says the U.S. has experienced this for the past 15 years or so. It results in strong job growth for the high-paying jobs and the low-paying jobs at both ends of the labor market, but less growth in the middle to replace the well-paying manufacturing jobs the U.S. is losing.
Projections for the next decade from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that elements of that basic trend will continue.
Top 10 List
Dixie Sommers, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, recites a list of the 10 occupations that the BLS expects will provide the greatest number of new jobs over the next decade. These include:
- Registered nurses
- Home health aids
- Customer service representatives
- Food preparation and serving workers
- Personal and home care aides
- Retail salespersons
- Office clerks
- Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants
- Postsecondary teachers
Six of the top seven fastest-growing occupations are low-skill, low-wage jobs.
Katz says the challenge is to move those jobs up the skills ladder. There's no reason, he says, that home health care workers couldn't be better educated to provide patients with greater value and, as a result, command higher wages to improve their own living standards.
"So [by] professionalizing those types of jobs, we could have a very optimistic vision of an economy," Katz says.
How that might square the goal of spending less on health care isn't clear.
Katz argues it wouldn't necessarily require spending more on education, but rather changing what's taught to focus more on different skills like problem solving, interpersonal relations and teamwork.
Once again this decade, the BLS is projecting that the health care sector will be a leader in producing new jobs: 4 million of them, including high-skill, high-paying jobs like doctors and nurses. The service sector, which includes health care, is expected to produce a whopping 96 percent of all new jobs, while manufacturing employment continues to shrink.
For job seekers, Sommers says nursing combines a huge number of openings with high pay — a median wage of more than $62,000 a year.
"Accountants [are] another one that's expected to grow pretty rapidly and pays around $59,000 on an annual average," Sommers says.
Less Training Required
For those who want to spend less time in school than accountants and nurses, but still make good money, Sommers suggests firefighting or becoming a sales representative for a manufacturer — especially one making technical and scientific products. Sales representatives can make about $70,000 a year, she says.
Finally, over the next decade, the best-paying, fastest-growing job that also requires little training is truck driving. According to the BLS, the folks driving the big tractor-trailer rigs earn about $37,000 a year on average.