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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| November 8, 2018
With the U.S. unemployment rate near a 50-year low, it’s a great time to be looking for a new job. Employers have plenty of openings to fill, and wages are even starting to rise after remaining stubbornly stagnant for years. But exercise caution before blindly switching careers. Even as the economy prospers, some occupations continue to fade as the evolving employment landscape leaves them behind.
To help today’s job seekers better grasp the realities of the labor market and avoid dying professions, we analyzed 773 occupations, considering their pay rates, growth potential over the next decade and educational requirements. The bottom of our rankings are littered with jobs that pay little at present and are expected to shed positions in the future. Take a look at 20 of the worst jobs for the future, along with our suggestions for alternate career paths that utilize comparable skills or satisfy similar interests while offering better growth and pay prospects.
Unless otherwise noted, all employment data was provided by Emsi, a labor-market research firm owned by Strada Education. Emsi collects data from dozens of federal, state and private sources, including reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau. The total number of jobs listed for each occupation is for 2017. Projected 10-year job growth figures represent the percentage change in the total number of jobs in an occupation between 2017 and 2027. Annual earnings were calculated by multiplying median hourly earnings by 2,080, the standard number of hours worked in a year by a full-time employee. Jobs are listed in reverse order by ranking, from 20 to 1.
Total number of jobs: 4,093
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 0.4% (All jobs: 9.7%)
Median annual salary: $42,786 (All jobs: $43,992)
Typical education: Associate’s degree
Speaking of dying professions, you’d think embalmers—who prepare bodies for burial—would be a sure bet for steady employment given the certainty of death. And while positions in this occupation are, indeed, expected to hold steady over the next decade, that’s following a decade of drastic cuts. Over the past 10 years, the number of embalmers in the U.S. sank 53.1%. One big reason: The rise of cremation, a more affordable and less labor-intensive option for laying the body to rest.
As a funeral services manager, you can actually take advantage of the inevitable and make a solid career out of helping others carry out their final goodbyes. It is still a relatively small profession with 10,357 current workers, compared with the most widely held occupation, retail salesperson, with 4.5 million workers and the median of 56,103 for all jobs in the U.S. But the ranks of funeral services managers are growing: By 2027, their count should increase by an estimated 8.8%. Plus, the pay is generous with a median salary of about $70,470 a year.
Total number of jobs: 36,648
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -0.7%
Median annual salary: $26,130
Typical education: High school diploma
These positions have already suffered big losses, with the total number of pharmacy aides in the U.S. dropping 29.3% over the past decade. So at least the decline is significantly slowing, and growth will be pretty much flat over the next decade. A major reason for the cutbacks is that pharmacy technicians, who also assist pharmacists, are absorbing many of the tasks aides would be responsible for, such as answering phones, manning the cash register and stocking shelves.
If you can’t beat ‘em, become a pharmacy tech yourself. The projected growth rate for this job is a much better 12.6% for the next 10 years, and the pay is more generous, too, with a median income of $31,762 a year. You may be able to land the job with just a high school diploma and on-the-job training, just like pharmacy aides. But you might opt to do a specialized education program in pharmacy technology, usually offered by vocational schools or community colleges and lasting for a year or less, to give yourself an edge over the competition. You may also face some state regulations, depending on where you work, that may require formal education or training and passing an exam and criminal background check.
Total number of jobs: 12,458
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 6.3%
Median annual salary: $24,449
Typical education: High school diploma
Gambling establishments, including casinos and racetracks, are becoming more popular and widespread as more states are considering building them to boost tax revenue. That helps drive demand for gaming-related jobs, which are all expected to grow over the next decade, albeit at a slower rate than jobs overall in the U.S. The Supreme Court’s decision in May that effectively allows states to legalize sports betting may also boost demand for gaming and sports book writers and runners, who handle bets on sporting events. Still, given its low pay and few positions (even after projected growth), this particular job does not seem like a good bet.
As a gaming surveillance officer or gaming investigator, you can still keep tabs on gambling transactions and collect more cash while doing it. The projected job growth rate is 8.6% over the next decade, and median pay is $33,342 a year. You typically need just a high school diploma to get started, but certain assignments may require experience with video surveillance technology. And don’t worry: This job is mainly about people watching from behind a desk and identifying would-be cheaters—no fisticuffs required.
Total number of jobs: 31,503
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -12.9%
Median annual salary: $34,408
Typical education: Bachelor’s degree
More radio disc jockeys, talk show hosts and podcasters are under threat of going off air indefinitely. Consolidation of radio and television stations, as well as the increased use of syndicated programming, limit the need for these kinds of workers. Plus, streaming music services offer fierce competition to radio stations and their workers. On the upside, online radio stations may provide new opportunities for announcers.
If you’re committed to this career track, consider keeping it local. While national news stations are on the rise, audiences still want to hear about what’s going on in their own communities, driving demand for stations to maintain local elements to their broadcasts. Otherwise, you might consider addressing even smaller audiences and becoming a party DJ or emcee. These other types of announcers make up a small field of just 17,813 workers currently, but are expected to grow their ranks 4.5% by 2027. They typically earn slightly less with a median $33,738 a year, but only require a high school diploma to get started.
Total number of jobs: 51,787
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -8.3%
Median annual salary: $24,443
Typical education: High school diploma or equivalent
People are still stopping to smell the flowers—and buying them. But where they’re stopping is what’s changing career prospects for floral designers. After a surge of new flower-shop openings in the 1980s and '90s, their numbers have fallen dramatically as budget-conscious consumers are opting to buy loose, fresh-cut flowers from grocery stores instead of elaborate bouquets and arrangements from the specialty shops. Plus, the rise of the Internet has allowed some florists to operate more efficiently and reduce the number of brick-and-mortar shops.
If your heart is set on a floral-focused future, apply for a position at a grocery store, where employment of floral designers is expected to grow 6%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Otherwise, consider casting your eye for arrangement from flowers to furniture. Positions for interior designers are expected to grow 6.0% by 2027. To take this path, you'll need additional education — usually a bachelor's degree—and possibly a license or certification, depending on your state and specialty. But you may also expect to earn more; interior designers have a median pay of more than $43,451 a year. If further education isn't in the cards for you, consider being a merchandise displayer. These positions are projected to increase by 6.4% this decade, typically pay about $26,978 a year and require just a high school education.
Total number of jobs: 11,969
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 2.1%
Median annual salary: $27,739
Typical education: High school diploma or equivalent
Smokey Bear is going animatronic. While developing, maintaining and protecting forests remains necessary, many of the tasks performed by forest and conservation workers—such as tree counting and identifying—can now be done by new technologies, such as remote sensing. That means fewer people will be necessary to accomplish the same amount of work. On the other hand, the increasing frequency of wildfires may fuel greater demand for these workers because only they can prevent—and suppress—forest fires.
If you don’t mind focusing on fire prevention—in forests or elsewhere—becoming a firefighter is a safe career choice (setting aside the physical dangers, of course). The job’s ranks are expected to grow 8.2% by 2027, and the median pay is $49,088 a year. It typically requires just a high school diploma, as well as training in emergency medical services. You also need to go through rigorous fire academy training, which takes a few months, and pass written and physical tests.
Total number of jobs: 11,707
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -12.8%
Median annual salary: $37,458
Metal and plastic may be durable materials, but the U.S. labor market for people who work with them is proving more malleable. Many of the old metal- and plastic-production jobs are now being done more efficiently by machines or more affordably abroad. Lower-skill positions that involve manually setting and operating machines such as these are becoming increasingly scarce.
While less-skilled manufacturing jobs are declining, more high-tech positions within the manufacturing industry are on the rise. For example, programmers of computer numerically controlled metal and plastic machines are expected to multiply by more than 14.8% over the next decade. The pay is also better with a median salary of about $52,541 a year.
*Bolded data at top refer specifically to drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators and tenders for metal and plastic products.
Total number of jobs: 7,369
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -5.5%
Median annual salary: $29,929
Typical education: No formal education credential
This niche construction job saw positions cut by 51% over the past decade—a time which notably included the housing bust—and it’s expected to continue that downward trend through the next decade, though at a far slower pace. Demand may bounce back (and fall again) to track the housing market, but that kind of economic sensitivity can make for a bumpy career path. And considering the low pay, the volatility is hardly worthwhile.
If you can apply your handiwork more broadly, becoming a carpenter may offer a sturdier future. While this position also suffered high employment losses over the past decade, it’s expected to add more than 48,440 jobs, or 4.6%, by 2027. This job also pays more, with a median salary of $35,818 a year.
Total number of jobs: 13,708
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -11.5%
Median annual salary: $33,300
This broad group of manufacturing workers puts together finished products and the parts that go in them, using tools, machines and their hands to make a wide variety of goods from toys and household appliances to cars and computers. The data listed above specifically refers to coil winders, tapers and finishers, who work on electric and electronic products including transformers, generators and electric motors. While some of the work performed by assemblers and fabricators is still done by hand, much of the work is already performed by automated systems because the parts are too small or fragile for human handling. And even more of the work may be taken on by automation or be otherwise handled in more-efficient ways, requiring fewer human hands.
Try applying your handiwork to the role of industrial machinery mechanic, who maintains and repairs factory equipment and other industrial machines. You need a high school diploma to get started, and then can expect more than a year of on-the-job training. The projected job growth rate is 8.9% over the next decade, and the median pay is a healthy $50,752 a year.
*Bolded data at top refer specifically to coil winders, tapers and finishers.
Total number of jobs: 12,201
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -15.7%
Median annual salary: $34,512
These workers do exactly what their job title says: install and repair electronic equipment in motor vehicles. Specifically, they work on the sound, security and navigations systems in cars and trucks. Unfortunately for the electronic equipment installers and repairers who focus on motor vehicles, this specialty has been hard hit because these systems are increasingly of higher quality (thus requiring less maintenance) and are increasingly coming standard in new vehicles (rather than being installed by third parties).
Electrical and electronics repairers specializing in maintaining generating stations, substations and in-service relays have far better job growth projections and potential pay. Those workers, who are employed primarily by utilities, are expected to add 5.1% more jobs by 2027. Pay is a generous median of $78,416 a year. You still need just a high school diploma to get started, but additional postsecondary classes in electronics at a community college or technical school can give you an edge over the competition. And many of these particular electrical and electronics repairers get their starts working as electricians first.
Total number of jobs: 7,367
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -10.7%
Median annual salary: $36,317
Remember when you had to talk to a person in order to make a phone call? How about the last time you dialed 411 to get a phone number? No? So you understand exactly what’s happened to the telephone operator. Apple's first iPhone debuted in 2007, revolutionizing how we communicate and access information. It's no coincidence that there were 71.2% more telephone operators working a decade ago than there are today. And the trend shows no signs of flagging.
As a police, fire and ambulance dispatcher, you can apply very similar skills—with far more urgency—and rescue a failing career. There are currently more than 100,000 people answering 911 calls, and their ranks are expected to grow 9% over the next decade. The pay is higher, too, with a median $39,645 a year.
Total number of jobs: 4,929
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -17.0%
Median annual salary: $36,573
No, the logging industry is not falling because of a rise in tree huggers. Like other production jobs, many of the tasks once requiring plenty of muscle is now being done by machine. But new workers will still be needed to replace those who will be retiring—the physically demanding job isn’t exactly conducive to lengthy careers.
If you're looking to work outdoors and take in the lay of the land, consider becoming a surveying and mapping technician. These workers assist surveyors and cartographers by operating equipment to collect data, measuring land and recording other descriptive information. The need for their services is closely tied to construction demand. That helps explain the 27.1% decline in positions over the past decade, which includes the housing bust. But the next 10 years should see many of those jobs return, with above-average growth of 10.3% expected. Plus, while you'll need to do some postsecondary training to learn the technology, you typically need just a high school diploma to get started, and the median pay is higher at $44,824 a year.
Bolded data at top exclude fallers and logging equipment operators, which are two specialized occupations in the logging industry.
Total number of jobs: 4,333
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -12.6%
Median annual salary: $30,499
Typical education: No formal educational credential
People who hang wallpaper, as well as those who hang paper advertisements such as billboards, are losing positions rapidly. Aesthetic preferences are favoring other materials over wallpaper including good ol’ paint, and digital technology has transformed advertising.
You can transfer your skills to being a painter in construction and maintenance. Over the past decade, which includes the housing bust, the number of these workers declined 16.5%, but their count remains high at 410,196 workers. And the future is expected to bring a mild rebound, with a projected job growth rate of 1.5% over the next 10 years. The median pay is a comparable $30,722 a year.
Total number of jobs: 22,775
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -12.3%
Median annual salary: $27,556
Thanks to the popularity of social media and the near-universal adoption of smartphones with built-in cameras, it's become easy and increasingly common to take digital photos and share them instantly through cyberspace. A chief consequence of the shift to sharing selfies in real time: Drastically lower demand for print pictures and the people who operate the big machines that process them. Plus, when the whim arises, advancing technology has allowed people to print their own photos at home.
Photographers are seeing a better career outlook than photo processors. Over the next decade, the profession is expected to grow 1.2% to 144,004 jobs by 2027. Median earnings are currently about $30,618 a year. Portrait and commercial photographers (who may work for corporations to create advertisements) are likely to experience the greatest demand.
Total number of jobs: 5,618
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -6.4%
Median annual salary: $22,048
Each year, it seems fewer and fewer people are singing, “Let’s all go to the movies.” Explanations for the fall in box-office sales include high ticket prices, fewer quality movies (Marvel Studio productions aside) and shorter time between theater runs to in-home availability. Whatever the reason, results are the same—fewer theaters and lower demand for the people who work there. Plus, those manning the equipment to play the movies have lower skill requirements, given advancing technology.
As an audio and video equipment technician, you can still put your AV skills to work—and enjoy greater opportunities to do so. There are already nearly 100,200 of these workers in the U.S., setting up systems in offices, arenas, hotels, schools, hospitals and homes. And that count is expected to grow 15.3% over the next decade. Median pay is $41,226 a year. Entry level workers typically need a postsecondary nondegree award or certificate, which can take up to a year to earn.
Total number of jobs: 3,286
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -7.3%
Median annual salary: $27,627
Consider the other shoe dropped. People who operate the machines used in the production of shoes are running into the same challenges as other low-skill manufacturing jobs: Some of these workers' functions are becoming more automated, requiring fewer people to complete the same amount of work. And many companies are cutting costs by sending these jobs overseas.
You can use many of the same skills as a woodworking machine operator and enjoy a more promising career. These workers (which do not include those who operate sawing machines) are expected to see some growth in their numbers, going up 4.2% to more than 82,800 workers by 2027. The pay is greater, too, with a median $29,120 a year.
Total number of jobs: 835
Median annual salary: $25,062
Another low-skill manufacturing job, fabric menders are also being replaced by cheaper substitutes. Advancing technology is displacing some of these workers as their functions are becoming more automated. Plus, many companies try cutting costs by sending these jobs overseas. And while recent economic developments in China have brought some of this type of work back to the U.S.—accounting for the slight uptick in projected jobs—the major damage is already done: Over the past decade, the number of these workers has been cut in half, leaving a very small number of them today.
Consider applying your mending skills to metal instead of fabric. Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers—who use handheld or remotely controlled equipment to join or cut metal parts—are keeping it together better than fabric menders. Over the past decade, their numbers declined just 1.2%, to about 411,000 current U.S. workers. And they're expected to recover those losses and then some, growing at a rate of 7.1% through 2027. Median earnings are about $39,541 a year.
Total number of jobs: 10,129
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -23.6%
Median annual salary: $28,288
The manufacturing industry is a tale of two job markets. Yes, there’s been a decline in many production jobs in the U.S. But while low-skill roles are dwindling, demand for certain skilled manufacturing jobs has been on the upswing in recent years. Operators of various textile machines used for knitting, weaving, cutting, winding, dyeing and more fall into the former category.
Jobs for machinists are expected to increase 4.3% by 2027. These workers use machine tools such as lathes, milling machines and grinders to make items ranging from simple bolts to titanium bone screws for orthopedic implants. While you can still get this gig with just a high school diploma, you also need specialized training, which you can receive on the job or through an apprenticeship program, vocational school or community or technical college. Machinists earn a median salary of $42,557 a year.
*Bolded data at top refer specifically to textile bleaching and dyeing machine operators and tenders.
Total number of jobs: 3,655
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -7.8%
Median annual salary: $29,297
Manufactured buildings and mobile homes, a.k.a. prefabs, make up a small and shrinking segment of the U.S. housing market. In their most popular days, they accounted for between 16% and 25% of all new single-family homes from 1977 to 1995, but just about 10% in more recent years, according to the Urban Institute. So not many builders would benefit from focusing on such a niche market. And even as people might consider going with a prefab for an affordable housing option (manufactured housing tends to be 35% to 47% cheaper per square foot than site-built housing), they may use general contractors—with proper manufactured home installation licenses—to get the job done.
You can still make a living in housing as a construction and building inspector—and plenty of people do. There are currently 108,835 of these workers in the U.S., and that number is expected to grow at a healthy clip of 10.1% over the next decade. Even through the housing bust, their ranks remained stable, inching up 0.5% over the last 10 years. Their earnings are solid, too, with the median income at $58,323 a year.
Total number of jobs: 4,367
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: -27.0%
Median annual salary: $25,203
The clock is ticking on this profession. People are increasingly turning to more high-tech devices, including their mobile phones as well as smartwatches, to tell time on the go. And while luxury watches still see demand in the U.S., at an average price of $746 a timepiece, they hardly have enough mass market appeal to support the employment of a high number of watch repairers.
Time to transfer your talent for precision work with your hands. Electricians suffered slight losses over the past decade, decreasing by 1.8% (compared with an increase of 5.4% for all jobs in the U.S.). But their count is still a whopping 717,504 people strong. And they’re expected to more than bounce back, adding 10.2% more positions in the next 10 years. The pay prospects are bright, too: Median earnings total $51,646 a year.