Unemployment might be at a 10-year low, but the job market isn’t what it was before the recession. Many of the middle-class jobs Americans used to rely on to get by have been replaced by those in low-paying industries, such as food service and home health care, a 2016 Wall Street Journal analysis found. For some workers, it’s goodbye to jobs in manufacturing or offices and hello to, “Would you like fries with that?”
The news isn’t all bad. The U.S. economy has also added well-paying jobs in information services, management and consulting, and software development, the Wall Street Journal’s research found. But there’s no doubt many of the jobs that once provided a secure middle-class income to millions of Americans no longer exist. Some — especially government jobs — have vanished due to budget cuts, while others have been shifted offshore or eliminated when technology made workers obsolete. And the worst might be yet to come, at least in some industries.
Though the job market is expected to grow by 6.5% between 2014 and 2024, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth won’t be shared equally across all industries. Certain fields, such as nursing and accounting, are looking at double-digit job growth. But others are expected to shrink dramatically.
The endangered jobs include many that pay enough to push a dual-income family into the middle class, as well as many that don’t require a college degree. (A four-person household needed to earn at least $48,000 to qualify as middle income in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.)
People looking to provide a decent living for themselves and their families might want to think twice before pursuing one of these 15 formerly middle-class jobs, which are expected to experience big employment declines in the coming years. All salary and employment data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics unless otherwise noted.
15. Executive secretaries
- Median wage: $55,860
- Expected employment decline: 5.7%
The days of every mid-level office worker having a dedicated secretary are long gone. Yet higher-level execs have retained their secretaries and executive assistants, who help arrange travel, manage correspondence, and plan meetings, among other duties. It can be a high-pressure job, and executive assistants are well compensated, earning more than $55,000 a year. Unfortunately, the number of jobs in this field is expected to fall by 44,600 by 2024, a 5.7% decline.
The drop is part of a broader decline in administrative and secretarial jobs, which has hit women particularly hard. Overall, nearly a million jobs for women in the office and administrative-support fields disappeared between 2009 and 2011, Bloomberg reported.
14. Bill collectors
- Median salary: $35,350
- Expected employment decline: 5.6%
You’d think the one silver lining to the crushing mountain of debt Americans have racked up would be a bevy of jobs for bill collectors. But you’d be wrong. Despite our spendthrift ways, jobs for bill and account collectors are expected to fall by 19,600 by 2024. Industry consolidation and automation are to blame for the decline in jobs, according to the statistics bureau.
13. Bank tellers
- Median wage: $25,090
- Expected employment decline: 7%
When was the last time you waited in line to talk to a teller at your bank? ATMs and online banking have eliminated many of the functions bank tellers used to perform. While there will still be an estimated 480,500 people working as tellers in 2024, that’s significantly fewer than the 520,500 people currently working in this field.
Declining employment is another blow to bank tellers, whose jobs no longer offer a reliable middle-class income. About 30% of tellers rely on public assistance to supplement their wages, a 2014 study found. And some have called them the “fast food workers of Wall Street.”
12. Bookkeeping and accounting clerks
- Median wage: $38,390
- Expected employment decline: 8.4%
A job as a bookkeeping or accounting clerk used to be a solid career choice for people without a four-year college degree. Yet job opportunities in this field are drying up, with nearly 150,000 jobs expected to vanish by 2024, according to the statistics bureau.
You can blame technology. Improvements in software have automated many of the tasks bookkeepers and accounting clerks once had to do manually. However, there is a silver lining. As experienced bookkeepers leave the field, companies will want to hire to replace them, allowing some workers to get their foot in the door.
11. Insurance underwriters
- Median wage: $67,680
- Expected employment decline: 11.4%
Ever been denied insurance coverage or offered a rate you felt was way too high? Blame an insurance underwriter, the person whose job it is to evaluate insurance applications and determine premiums and coverage. As with many of the jobs on this list, underwriters are falling victim to automation.
Software is speeding up application processing, which means fewer underwriters are needed to evaluate all those requests for coverage. But there will still be opportunities for underwriters who can work in more complex fields like marine insurance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
10. Home economics teachers
- Median wage: $69,190
- Expected employment decline: 11.6%
As recently as 2002, about 5.5 million high school students were enrolled in a home economics course (or “family and consumer science,” as it’s now officially known). By 2012, that number had fallen to just 3.5 million. The number of jobs for people willing to teach young people about cooking, budgeting, and other life skills is expected to continue to shrink. Today, there are 4,300 home economics teachers. By 2024, there will be 3,800.
9. Travel agents
- Median wage: $36,460
- Expected employment decline: 11.7%
Now that you can book a flight, hotel, and activities online in a matter of minutes, fewer Americans feel the need to call a travel agent when planning a vacation. The industry has already shrunk considerably, from 34,000 retail travel locations in the 1990s to 13,000 by 2013, according to CNN, and more contraction is on the horizon. The number of travel agents is expected to drop to 65,400 in 2024, down from 74,100 in 2014. But travel agents who work with luxury and corporate travelers or who specialize in booking specialty trips will likely still have a niche.
8. Printing workers
- Median wage: $35,120
- Expected employment decline: 14.4%
As people shun paper in favor of digital options, jobs in the printing industry have declined. In Illinois alone, a center of the printing industry, the number of jobs fell by 45% between 2001 and 2013, according to the Crain’s. Jobs in the printing industry will continue to decline, falling by 14% by 2024. Pre-press technicians will be especially hard hit, with the number of jobs in this field falling from 36,500 to 27,500, a drop of 25%.
7. Parking enforcement workers
- Median wage: $37,950
- Expected employment decline: 20.8%
Parking enforcement workers earn an average salary of nearly $38,000 for patrolling city streets and issuing tickets to illegally parked cars. In 2014, about 9,400 people worked in parking enforcement. By 2024, their ranks will shrink by 2,000 to 7,400. In times of tight budgets, many cities, such as Chicago and San Francisco have laid off dedicated parking workers and shifted their responsibilities onto other workers.
6. Manufacturing and factory jobs
- Median wage: Varies
- Expected employment decline: About 20% to 25%, depending on specific job
Manufacturing jobs once provided a ladder to the middle class for millions of Americans, but opportunities for a lifetime career on the assembly line have been declining for years due to technological changes and outsourcing. And we might not have hit bottom yet.
The statistics bureau provides data for a variety of manufacturing and factory jobs, and the outlook is bleak for nearly all of them. The number of forging machine setters, operators, and tenders will shrink by 21% by 2024. Cutting-machine jobs will decline by about 21%, as well. Jobs for model makers and pattern makers will fall by 22%.
But not all manufacturing jobs are vanishing. In the next decade, companies will need to hire more people for highly skilled manufacturing jobs, including those who can operate and program computer-controlled machines. The number of jobs in this area will grow by 18% to 204,700.
5. Watch repairers
- Median wage: $36,740
- Expected employment decline: 25.7%
Cellphones have replaced watches for many people, which means less demand for watch repair. Jobs in this highly specialized industry are already scarce. There are just 2,700 watch repairers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2024, there will be only 2,000, a drop of about 26%. Trained horologists will still be needed to fix expensive designer watches, so this field, while shrinking, isn’t out of time yet.
4. Postal service workers
- Median wage: $56,790
- Expected employment decline: 28.1%
Landing a job for the U.S. Postal Service was once a route to the middle class for many Americans — but no more. The number of people working as letter sorters, mail sorters, and clerks has plummeted from 797,795 in 1999 to 508,908 in 2016. Employment at the USPS is expect to drop another 28% by 2024 to a little less than 350,000, about the number of employees the postal service had in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
3. Textile workers
- Median wage: Up to $39,650
- Expected employment decline: Up to 30%
Jobs in the textile industry don’t usually pay big bucks, but they’ve been a reliable career option for people without an education beyond high school, with salaries ranging from about $21,000 annually for dry cleaning workers to nearly $40,000 for pattern-makers. Many of these jobs are disappearing, though.
Employment for sewing machine operators could decline by 27% by 2024, a loss of 42,000 jobs. Employment for shoe repairers will fall by 15%, and the number of tailors and dressmakers will drop by 9%. Textile machine operators will be hit especially hard, losing 19,400 jobs, a drop of 24%.
But technological advances and a shift to functional fabrics could create new jobs in the textile industry in the coming years for some workers, the New York Times reported.
2. Telephone operators
- Median wage: $37,000
- Expected employment decline: 42.4%
Pre-Google and Siri, locating a telephone number often meant dialing 0 or 411. Now, telephone operators, who also help disabled callers and assist with emergency calls when you can’t reach 911, are a dying breed. In 2014, there were about 13,100 telephone operators. But by 2025, there will only be about 7,500, a drop of 42%.
Switchboard operators, who help relay calls in offices, hospitals, and other settings, are also disappearing. About 37,000 jobs in this field will vanish by 2024, a drop of about 33%. The average switchboard operator makes $28,030 per year.
1. Locomotive firers
- Median wage: $58,230
- Expected employment decline: 69.9%
Locomotive firers — sometimes called assistant engineers — monitor equipment, watch for train signals, and look out for obstacles on the tracks. Back when freight trains ran with five-person crews, the job was more common. But as railroad companies have scaled back to two- or three-person crews, locomotive firer jobs have all but disappeared. In 2014, only 1,700 people were still working as locomotive firers, and their numbers are expected to fall to 500 by 2024.
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