The Economy of the Future?

I sometimes go to The Bureau of Labor Statistics site to see if there are any interesting stats or developments within the economy. One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is what will the future labor force look like? For example, did you know that retail work is the commonest job in the U.S.? Let’s take a gander at the commonest occupations in the U.S. as of last year:

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Source: BLS

If automation takes over this sector, where will all the displaced workers go? Will retail work be the next manufacturing, where vast swaths of American towns are decimated by the unfeeling advance of the robot? Likely not, as your friendly clothing and perfume expert aren’t located around a natural resource site like coal or iron ore. They are instead spread across middle-class American towns, but their displacement is, and will, be real. Moving down the list, the picture in terms of economic mobility does not brighten. Already, several of these occupations in the top 10 are being replaced by automation.

Let’s take a look at where the labor force is headed in the next 10 years. The chart below shows which jobs will grow by the greatest number, based on current values, within the next 10 years.


This chart shows the 10 occupations which are projected to have the largest labor growth in the next ten years. 7 of these 10 occupations hover around, or below, the poverty line for a family of four. You might very well say, “of course you can’t expect to raise a family on a personal aide or fast food worker salary”, but, isn’t that the point? If we don’t assume that these low paying positions are relegated to the young American workers, but are instead taken by those raising a family, what does that portend for family life in the U.S.?

With the low levels of pay one might assume that these types of occupations are a mainstay for uneducated and unskilled workers. In fact, as many as 48% of college educated workers are overqualified for their position, working as bartenders, cashiers, and convenience store clerks. If college grads are competing for the same occupations that non-grads and entrants to the labor market are seeking, what does that spell for the future of the labor market given what we see in the fastest growing occupations?


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