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by SixFigureStart | January 14, 2010


From the Wall Street Journal this week comes the revelation that "Even when the U.S. labor market finally starts adding more workers than it loses, many of the unemployed will find that the types of jobs they once had simply don't exist anymore."

While that may not be particularly surprising, the article goes on to highlight some of the areas that are likely to end up "going the way of typewriter repairmen and streetcar operators". Among the career fields doomed according to the Journal's predictions:

  • Construction-related positions. (The sector has shed 1.6 million positions over the last 2 years—"more than a fifth of the jobs lost since the recession began.")
  • The financial sector
  • Record stores
  • Directory and mailing list publishers
  • Photofinishing establishments
  • Office and administrative workers

Looking at that list, difficult to argue with any of the predictions: the first two sectors pretty much caused the recession, while the rest have been overtaken by new technologies and, as the Journal points out, "were likely disappearing anyway."

The only quibble I have is with the final prediction: while technologies may indeed be automating some of the function of administrative workers, they can't completely replace them. And, while "the ranks of people doing office and administrative work have fallen 10.1% since the recession began," there's no guarantee that those positions won't come back: it stands to reason that as companies begin increasing in size that they'll need bigger administrative staffs to cope—just as they needed fewer admin workers when revenues and employee counts began falling.

All told, the list is an interesting insight into how our society and the things we take for granted have changed, both bubble driven (while my mailbox is generally less cluttered these days, it doesn't seem that long since I was being bombarded with offers for easy credit and no-money-down mortgages), and as a result of wider societal and technological shifts. With that in mind, there's perhaps reason for more optimism than the Journal piece suggests; for while typewriter repairmen may be a thing of the past, they were replaced for good reason—the rise of computer technology, which in turn led to many more jobs and career opportunities than it destroyed. Whether or not the current job destruction has a similar opportunity for growth buried deep within it is impossible to tell at this point, but one thing is for certain: lamenting the jobs that have disappeared won't help anyone to find a new one.

--Posted by Phil Stott,


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