The shift into a knowledge-based, tech-heavy service economy has hit many workers hard–and even decimated whole regions, like the “Rust Belt” area from Pittsburgh and Cleveland to Detroit and beyond. A generation of skilled workers, trained to make complex machines like automobiles, or capable of operating the machinery necessary to produce the steel that undergirds much of our society–they’re all out of jobs, and the jobs are never coming back.
But that’s the last recession–what about the next one? Here we compile ten jobs that are on the endangered species list–and the shockingly reasonable salaries that will go with them. Unfortunately for many Americans, the question of “what next” doesn’t have any easy answer. But knowing the risks in store in many of these occupations–even some surprising ones in the tech industry–can better prepare you for the uncertain future ahead.
1. Retail Cashier: $21,000
The rise of digital self-checkout options over the last year makes clear the threat on the horizon for register-jockeys. But that isn’t the only concern: the ever-expanding reach of internet-based commerce–with Amazon Fresh for grocery deliveries only the latest threat–promises to decimate or more the demand for a job that once offered stable though boring employment to tens of thousands across the country. While never a high-paying option, the cashier was often a way-point for workers who may lack a college degree but not initiative: most retail store managers worked up through the company, with many starting at the checkout line. With these jobs on their way out, that’s another avenue for social advancement closed off to those without educational credentials–not to mention teenagers looking for summer and holiday employment.
2. Telemarketer: $22,300
Another troubled career is that of telemarketer (although whether it truly offers a career is an open question, given high turnover in the occupation). Everyone who is not a telemarketer can breathe a sigh of relief, sing a hallelujah, and crack open a celebratory beverage: telemarketers are on their way out! Now, the bad news: your happiness will be short-lived, as telemarketing as an industry is not dying, just the telemarketing occupation within the U.S. No prizes for guessing the replacements: a combination of robots and/or fake robots from other countries. In any event, the jobs here are likely to dry up, but scams, spam, and debt collectors? The phone will keep ringing.
3. Freight/Stock: $23,900
Unloading trucks, unpacking shipments, and refilling the milk freezers: thankless jobs that nevertheless offered an outlet for many workers who may have had trouble entering other positions due to language barriers, educational limitations, or even outright discrimination. In the near future, these workers will have to find an alternative, and for a common reason: the robots are coming. Kiva Robotics, one of the most advanced in the space, makes robots that run the stock room with a minimum of human intervention. From the company’s perspective, the move makes sense: in addition to the wages, which are modest, the insurance costs are high as warehouses and stockrooms make for unsafe work environments and workplace injuries are common. The robots, on the other hand, aren’t concerned about bumps and bruises, heights and falls, or any of the other risks that workers face. Plus, their backs don’t give out–and if they do, they’re easily replaced. Not a promising future for warehouse workers.
4. Newspaper Delivery: $24,100
While newspaper-delivery robots may yet happen, this occupation is going the way of the dodo for a different (albeit related) reason: the internet. While old people sometimes argue that screens just don’t have the same appeal as paper, they surely said that about paper vs. stone tablets a couple thousand years ago–and tablet carving has long since dropped from the list of viable careers. With the growth of smartphones and e-readers on the one side and improved electronic distribution (not to mention a broader range of options) on the other, the entire newspaper production and distribution setup is being turned on its head. Newspaper delivery, that rite of passage for so many Americans, is one of the losers in the shakeout: while reporters, editors, and graphic designers will all transition to the new system, the electronic equivalent of newspaper delivery couriers is just the the wired and wireless networks our devices connect to. Would-be couriers will, alas, have to look elsewhere for entry to the labor force–or for the second job–that a newspaper delivery route once offered.
5. Travel Agent: $31,800
Bing.com, Microsoft’s much-maligned competitor to Google search, has at least one killer feature: a built-in travel website that vastly surpasses the previous competitors. One key innovation: estimates of future price changes based on past data. The software will tell you to wait on a purchase if it expects the price to fall in the future, it estimates the future price drop, and it tells you how sure it is–and it also warns of expected price rises, telling you to lock in low-cost flights while you can. It does so well at showcasing the cheapest flight options for any itinerary that Google had to level up: the new Google Maps estimate airfare for long-distance travel directions, and links to Google Flights. Google’s service offers a great feature that suggests slight changes to your travel dates that will save you money, and even lets you sort results by which frequent flyer program you use (Oneworld, SkyTeam, or Star Alliance). Combining the two sites means you’ll know which dates to fly, you’ll know when to buy, and you’ll know that you have no need for a travel agent, ever again.
6. Postal Worker: $32,000
As a federal agency, the United States Postal Service has a long and illustrious history–it was one of the few government jobs explicitly written into the Constitution! In the middle part of the 19th century, it offered a stable career with decent pay and benefits to African-Americans who, due to private discrimination, faced few options elsewhere. Now? The show is basically over and the USPS is on its way out–and the well-trod path to the middle class that it once offered is gone with it. While it has made enormous strides and actually competes well with FedEx and UPS on parcel delivery, its raison d’être–mail delivery–has vanished with the rise of email. However, even if it were legal, converting to a strict parcel delivery service would likely not save them: the rise of drone-based delivery, from FedEx’s pilot-free cargo plane plans to Amazon’s futuristic drones, there aren’t many jobs left in the field. Even with Amazon’s plans to use the USPS for Sunday deliveries, the career prospects for postal workers are dim.
7. Taxi Dispatcher: $43,000
Taxi dispatcher: there’s a bunch of apps for that is the problem. While major cities have long had fleets of taxis, those fleets are morphing into swarms of private drivers, affiliated (sometimes loosely!) with apps like Uber and Lyft filling in the gaps–not to mention NextBus and Google Maps better linking passengers with transit options. Plus, many cities are expanding what transit they have, minimizing the need for taxis. However, apps on smart devices aren’t the only concern taxi networks (and their dispatchers!) face. On the one hand, car sharing programs like Zipcar and eGo are making it easier than ever to have a car ready for you when you need–but not when you don’t. As the networks grow and the parking spots proliferate, these options will get better and better. On the other hand, the rapid growth of bike sharing programs gives people a brand new option on the same model. But the biggest problem of all? Even with taxis likely to last, it won’t be long before taxi apps themselves are able to dispatch cars where they need to go, and at that point even the taxis themselves won’t need a dispatcher.
8. Word Processor/Typist: $45,000
Before the “word processor” was a computer application, it was a job. Come to think of it, before computers were computers, “computer” just meant “a person that computes thing”. It was also a job. Not a great one. Much like computers before them, typists are on their way out. The culprit? Rapidly improving dictation. Between the big guns like Apple’s Siri and Google Now, small firms like Dragon Dictate are rapidly improving voice recognition software for mobile platforms. Apple’s new operating system features a high-quality dictation service. How high quality? I wrote that last sentence by speaking aloud. Apple didn’t miss a beat, and even added the hyphen to high-quality! Between tablet-based word entry like Swype for short messages, and ever-improving voice recognition dictation services for longer missives, typists are out of a job.
9. Librarian: $54,500
One the one hand, librarians are immensely helpful, pointing you to the correct source, providing further ideas, and generally managing immense collections with remarkable accuracy. At the moment, they are far more effective than search engines for a wide variety of tasks–as a frequent researcher, I can speak from experience! However, they are not cheap, and what happens when the library closes? Online librarian services are now commonplace for universities, and the inevitable endpoint of such operations is the usual tandem of automation and outsourcing. Now that Google Books (and similar ventures) have been ruled legal, these automated operations are only going to improve. In ten years time, a costly masters degree in library science may join the string of programs that leads to more debt than job options.
10. Social Media Manager: $59,000
Surprised to see such a new occupation on the list? Don’t be: easy come, easy go when it comes to the new tech economy. With the current generation growing up as much online as off, social media will be ever-more integrated into the lives of workers. The very ubiquity of social media will mean dedicated social media managers will become ever less necessary: as everyone around will have the skills necessary, specialists will find less and less demand for their services. Theirs was essentially a one-generation gig: so long as there are older, less tech-savvy individuals in charge, social media managers will last. But as the workforce turns over, the music will stop and they will find themselves without a deskchair in the office shuffle.