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America's disappearing jobs

Paul Sakuma / AP

A manufacturing technician produces chips in a clean room at Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif. Robots, however, are typically better at this type of work than humans

Between 2010 and 2020, the United States is expected to add nearly 20 million new jobs. That represents a 14.3 percent increase in labor. A good part of that change has to do with population growth, as well as the growth of several sectors. Certain medical and personal care jobs will grow by 50 percent or more as the baby boomer population ages and their needs increase. Other occupations, however, will decline considerably.

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Changes in population and technology also will lead to certain jobs shrinking dramatically or even becoming obsolete -- if they are not already. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) information on thousands of separate occupations, 24/7 Wall St. identified 10 job categories that will shrink by at least 14 percent, and in some cases by much more than that. These are America’s 10 disappearing jobs.

No single occupation category is projected to lose more jobs than postal service workers. The evolution and increasing use of digital communication has taken a toll on delivered mail. As a result, the government has implemented planned cuts to the number of postal employees. As of 2010, there were approximately 524,000 USPS positions in the country. By 2020, the BLS expects that number will decline by nearly 140,000, or 28 percent.

There will be more severe declines within certain postal occupations. Postal Service mail sorters, processors and processing machine operators increasingly are being replaced by more efficient mail-sorting machines, and their numbers are projected to decline by more than 50 percent by 2020.

A review of the remaining categories is a who’s who of job sectors that are increasingly becoming obsolete. Two of the 10 positions are in the declining print business. Three are in the textile repair or manufacturing industry, which continues to move jobs overseas.

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24/7 Wall St. looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Matrix on the projected growth or decline of more than 800 different occupations between 2010 and 2020. To avoid insignificant percentage changes, we excluded all jobs that had less than 10,000 positions as of 2010. We ranked all remaining positions by the projected decline of jobs by 2020 as a percentage of 2010 employment. For positions that were too similar, or fell into the same category, we included the broadest category. For example, postal service workers is a job category that includes several categories, many of which are expected to decline a great deal. In this case, we discussed postal service workers as a whole, mentioning occupations within the category that will lose the most jobs.

These are America’s disappearing jobs.

1. Postal service workers

  •  Percent decrease: -26.4 percent
  •  2010 jobs: 524,200
  •  Total job loss (2010-2020): -138,600
  •  Median annual wage: $53,090

It is not news to anyone that the U.S. Postal Service is suffering. In August of this year, the USPS announced that it was losing $57 million a day in the third quarter. The USPS cannot afford to hire more workers and many jobs will be replaced by machines to save money on salaries and benefits. There will be a decline of 48.5 percent in the number of mail sorters and processors because their functions are being automated. Similarly, there will be a decrease of 48.2 percent in the number of postal service clerks as a result of the drop in first-class mail use. The number of mail carriers is expected to fall by 12 percent, as their areas for delivery can expand as the volumes of mail contract. Because postal workers are considered government employees, their wages and benefits are quite good for the lack of an education requirement.

2. Sewing machine operators

  •  Percent decrease: -25.8 percent
  •  2010 jobs: 163,200
  •  Total job loss (2010-2020): -42,100
  •  Median annual wage: $20,600

Sewing machine operators use machinery to manufacture and decorate garments and a range of other products. By 2020, more than one quarter of such jobs will no longer exist, as the number of operators falls to 121,100. Further, only a handful professions are projected to lose a larger number of jobs than sewing machine operators, where 42,100 positions are expected to be lost. Among all jobs typically requiring less than a high school diploma, none is projected to lose more jobs, either as an absolute number or as a percentage of 2010 workers.

3. Shoe and leather workers

  •  Percent decrease: -23.1 percent
  •  2010 jobs: 13,300
  •  Total job loss (2010-2020): -3,100
  •  Median annual wage: $23,980

The number of shoe and leather workers is expected to decline by more than 23 percent this decade from 2010 to 2020. The profession has witnessed a steady fall in the number of jobs over the past few decades because of the drop in the price of manufacturing -- these days, people are inclined to buy new shoes rather than repairing old ones, unless the shoes or bags are very expensive or one of a kind. Most laborers in this field therefore specialize in luxury products in big cities across the country, where there is a larger market for their services. On the bright side, there is hope for shoe workers that have experience working with fitting shoes for orthopedic reasons. As the populations ages there will be an increased need for these services.

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4. Communications equipment operators

  •  Percent decrease: -22 percent
  •  2010 jobs: 164,000
  •  Total job loss (2010-2020): -36,100
  •  Median annual wage: $25,570

Most communications equipment operators either are telephone operators who provide customers with directory or billing information, or switchboard operators who relay calls. The BLS expects the number of telephone operators to decrease by 16.6 percent by the end of the decade and the number of switchboard operators to decline by 23.3 percent over the same time frame. Though the total number of operators is expected to fall by 36,100 by 2020, there will still be a projected 33,600 job openings as many workers decide to retire or otherwise leave a profession that paid a median annual wage of just $25,570.

5. Semiconductor processors

  •  Percent decrease: -17.9 percent
  •  2010 jobs: 21,100
  •  Total job loss (2010-2020): -3,800
  •  Median annual wage: $33,130

Despite a growing demand for semiconductors, the job outlook for semiconductor processors is rather somber. Semiconductors need to be produced in a clean room and with the utmost precision. And robots are typically better at this type of work than humans in bunny suits, the standard uniform for semiconductor processors. In addition, many of the manufacturing facilities are expected to move overseas, where costs are lower. Most of these positions require an associate’s degree and completion of a training program. The median income for semiconductor processors is slightly lower than the national median income for all occupations.

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