10 Middle-Class Jobs That Will Vanish by 2018

By Christian Hudspeth
July 08, 2011

UPDATE: Check out our latest list, "10 Middle Class Jobs That Will Vanish By 2020," published October 19, 2012.

By the year 2018, the manufacturing industry will lose 1.2 million jobs, the mining and oil/gas extraction industry will lose another 104,000 jobs and utility companies will lose 59,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

But outsourcing and foreign competition aren't the only reasons for shrinking industries. The needs of our economy have changed in recent years while companies have become leaner and meaner in order to survive.

And though these cuts and shifts have been painful for millions in the past and present, they are making our country more competitive for the future. 

Dramatic advancements in technology have more than doubled the output per worker since 1970. Our manufacturing industry has progressed from making simple household appliances, cars and textiles to producing cutting-edge medical technologies, life-saving medicines and light-speed computer processors with worldwide demand.

But as any nation's economy moves forward, the demise of older industries and professions causes hardship for many who consider themselves solidly in the middle-class. It may seem crazy, but thousands and thousands of Americans have even turned to dumpster diving to save money

So we've listed the 10 middle-class professions -- in order from smallest to largest in percentage rate of decline -- that may soon face the fate of the milk man, the telegraph operator, the stagecoach driver and the switchboard operator, joining them in obsolete-job heaven.  

10. Machinists

These skilled craftsmen, who specialize in the machine sculpting of high-precision metal parts, work primarily in the waning manufacturing industry. 

Though the decline of machinists is slow compared to many other occupations, many of these laborers will lose their jobs, facing stiff competition from foreign metal-part manufacturers.

Improvements in CNC machine tools, autoloaders and high-speed machining has increased productivity and decreased the demand for machinists. 

Job vacancies for this position will likely exist, however, because it requires a very specialized skillset to fill the position.

Median Salary: $38,520 

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 19,300

Percentage Decline by 2018: 5%

Photo courtesy of www.bls.gov.

9. First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Production and Operating Workers

As with other professions, the increase in automation, gains in productivity and competition from overseas has decreased the need for assembly workers in manufacturing.

And without assembly workers, there is no one to supervise.

Many direct supervisors that work in America's struggling manufacturing industry will not be around in the coming years.

Median Salary: $53,090

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 35,700

Percentage Decline by 2018: 5%

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

 

8. Farmers and Ranchers

The profession championed by America's earliest founders, including Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, has sadly seen large employment declines in the industrial age of the 21st century.

Advancements in fertilizer and technology have exponentially improved productivity in farming; increasing food yields by 158% since 1948 and dramatically reducing the need for farmhands. 

A few large farms manage to stay ahead of many smaller farms through government subsidies -- which they qualify for because they produce more food per worker for less cost.

In addition, the enormous costs of land, machinery, seed and fertilizer have made farming a venture only affordable to wealthier-farmers and corporations.

Despite a slow rate of decline, farmers and ranchers will see the largest total number of job losses of any profession by 2018.

Median Salary: $33,360

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 79,200

Percentage Decline by 2018: 8%

7. Computer Operators

Despite its title, this job is less common and less relevant to today's needs than you might think. During the days when many corporations had mainframe computers that filled large rooms and calculated tons of data, computer operators would run tests on the large machines to ensure that they were operating smoothly. 

Today's corporations are opting for smaller computers featuring efficient operating programs over the space-hogging mainframe computers of past.

Nearly one in five of the computer operators that are around today will move out of the profession in the next seven years. 

Median Salary: $36,930

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 20,500

Percentage Decline by 2018: 19%

Photo courtesy of explorepahistory.com.

6. Paper Goods Machine Setters, Operators and Tenders

job openings paper machine setterAs the job title suggests, these middle-class workers install, operate, and repair the machines that make every day paper products. 

Unfortunately for them, however, advances in technology have allowed society to regularly consume media and communicate long distances via computer and television screens instead of paper.

Add this to the fact that more people and businesses are recycling, and you can say "going green" has led to a decline in the paper industry.

Expect one in five of these workers to find another profession in the next few years.  

Median Salary: $34,130

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 22,200

Percentage Decline by 2018: 22%

Photo courtesy of www.bls.gov.

5. Desktop Publishers

job openings for desktop publishers

Similar to a print-media graphic designer, desktop publishers use computers to put together pictures and text to make brochures, books, calendars, newsletters and newspapers. 

Learning basic desktop publishing skills and using software like Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT) PowerPoint is now a regular job function for most office workers, which has caused the demand for desktop publishers to drop dramatically. 

Only 20,400 desktop publishers are expected to remain employed in 2018. 

Median Salary: $36,600

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 5,900

Percentage Decline by 2018: 23%

Photo courtesy of www.bls.gov.

4. Fabric and Apparel Patternmakers

job openings for fabric patternmakers

The fourth fastest declining occupation on our list, Fabric and Apparel Patternmakers are responsible for drawing and constructing fabric patterns and layouts. 

But advancements in textile manufacturing technology have allowed fewer workers to produce greater output of fabrics and fabric patterns -- making productivity the job killer for this occupation as well. 

In addition, the relentless competition from foreign textile manufacturers, who can produce textiles more cheaply and efficiently, has made textile manufacturing one of the fastest declining industries in the U.S. 

Expect wages to decline by a whopping 48% in this industry and the number of patternmakers dwindling to a mere 6,000 in the next few years. 

Median Salary: $38,970

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 2,200

Percentage Decline by 2018: 27%

Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.

3. Wellhead Pumpers

job openings for oil well pumpers

Wellhead pumpers ensure that oil or gas is properly extracted from fields using pumps and auxiliary equipment. 

But two main factors are causing this career to quickly vanish: 

1) Improvements in the supply management processes -- along with the increased use of automated storage and retrieval systems -- have amplified productivity, thereby decreasing the need for wellhead pumpers. 

2) The United States imports more than 62% of its crude oil from overseas, proving that demand is trending away from domestic oil extraction. 

Only 13,300 wellhead pumpers will be pumping oil by 2018.

Median Salary: $40,640

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 5,300

Percentage Decline by 2018: 28%

Photo courtesy of www.360eldorado.com.

2. Postal Service Mail Sorters, Processors and Processing Machine Operators

job openings postal workers

The workers who prepare the incoming and outgoing mail for distribution throughout our complex postal system may become more obsolete in the future.

New automated equipment that quickly and efficiently sorts and processes mail will greatly reduce the need for these workers in the coming years. 

Further dampening the demand for these workers, companies are increasingly taking advantage of postage rate discounts by pre-sorting mail before it arrives at the Post Office.

Nearly one-third of the current Postal Mail Sorters, Processors, and PM Operators in today’s work force will not be working in that profession by 2018.

Median Salary: $50,020

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 54,500

Percentage Decline by 2018: 30%

Photo courtesy of www.whig.com.

1. Semiconductor Processors

job openings semiconductor operator

This position has the fastest rate of decline on our list, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Because a processing chip's success depends on how fast and powerful it is, the semiconductor components must be built smaller and smaller in order for chips to send data more quickly. 

Today's processing chips, such as the Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) Core i Processors, have semiconductors that are nanometers (one millionth of a millimeter) in size, which is perfect for finely-tuned machines to assemble but far too small for any human to interact with during production.

In addition, dust and other particles that we carry on our skin can interfere with and ruin the micro-sized components during production. These factors make machines better suited for this line of work. 

One in three semiconductor processors will be obsolete by 2018.

Median Salary: $32,230

Projected Job Losses by 2018: 10,000

Percentage Decline by 2018: 32%

Photo courtesy of www.bls.gov.

The Investing Answer: While these professions are vanishing, there are still plenty of middle-class professions with room to expand. These middle-class jobs will be in such high demand, they will be lucrative and secure for years to come. You may have to go back to school and get a certification once you've decided on a job that you're interested in, but the reward may just be worth it. 

[UPDATE -- August 1, 2012: The 7 Fastest Growing Middle-Class Jobs in America -- one profession is expected to add 700,000 new jobs by the year 2020. This is a must read for job seekers.]




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