The job market is an important indicator of the economy's health. A look at the most and least common jobs reflects the industries that are critical to the economy, as well as those that are gaining prominence, or becoming obsolete.
According to Martin Kohli, chief regional economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), industry growth trends play a significant role in driving job totals. Workers in the nation's most popular occupations "are employed in industries that have also been expanding," Kohli said. Food preparers, one of the most common jobs, are in food services, an expanding industry according to Kohli. Similarly, the number of registered nurses is keeping pace with the growing health care field.
By contrast, many of the nation's least common jobs are in industries that are far smaller than they once were, such as the manufacturing sector. Many of these jobs, Kohli added, "are clearly on the decline because the industries that employ them are, and the technologies they use, are on the decline."
In fact, several rare occupations are expected to shrink considerably. The BLS currently estimates that the number of animal breeders will fall by 23% between 2012 and 2022, while the number of fabric menders will drop by 10%. The number of radio operators and wood pattern-makers is expected to be effectively flat, even as the number of total jobs is projected to rise by 11% in that time.
Still, some of these uncommon jobs do have growth potential and include relatively high salaries. The average geographer earned more than $75,000 annually as of 2013, and the average industrial-organizational psychologist earned nearly $88,000 annually. The BLS forecasts that these jobs will grow by 29% and 53%, respectively, between 2012 and 2022
In contrast, the nation's most common jobs tended to pay low wages. Cashiers, waiters and waitresses, and food preparation workers — all among the nation's most common jobs — earned, on average, less than $25,000 annually. By comparison, the average U.S. worker earned more than $46,000 per year. Among the nation's 10 most common occupations, only registered nurses earned an average salary above the national average for all jobs.
Most of the country's most common jobs require little in the way of a formal education. For example, food preparers often do not need a high school diploma and require little training. Other common jobs such as janitors, cashiers and retail salespersons also typically do not need higher education or substantial experience.
The most common jobs also offer few opportunities for advancement. And while there may well be exceptions, Kohli added that people "don't think of many of these jobs — such as cashier or retail salesperson — as having a career ladder that would lead to a higher-paid job." Additionally, these jobs are typically not unionized, which may also contribute to lower wages, said Kohli.
To determine the nation's most and least common jobs, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed figures published by the BLS' Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) on occupational employment and wages for more than 800 professions. These figures reflect data as of May 2013. We also reviewed employment forecasts from the Bureau's Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections. These projections forecast changes in employment, by occupation, between 2012 and 2022. Finally, we reviewed descriptive information on occupations from the Bureau's Occupational Outlook Handbook as well as O*NET OnLine. Because OES figures do not account for self-employed workers, occupations were excluded if other industry information indicated OES totals may be incomplete estimates.
These are America's most common jobs:
10. Janitors and cleaners
• Total number of jobs: 2.1 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 12.1%
• Average annual income: $25,140
The number of janitors is expected to grow by 12% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS, roughly in line with the 10.8% projected growth rate for all jobs in the U.S. Becoming a janitor typically does not require a college education. The average annual salary for a janitor, however, is lower than most occupations that the BLS examines. The average janitor earned $25,140 in 2012, well below the U.S. average of $46,440.
9. Secretaries and administrative assistants
• Total number of jobs: 2.2 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 13.2%
• Average annual income: $34,000
Already one of the nation's most common jobs, the number of secretaries is projected to grow even larger. The BLS forecasts a 13.2% increase between 2012 and 2022, only slightly higher than the nationwide job growth rate of 10.8%. However, positions are not usually high paying. Secretaries and administrative assistants earned an average of $34,000 as of 2013, less than the U.S. average of $46,440 across all occupations.
8. Hand laborers and material movers
• Total number of jobs: 2.3 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 11.0%
• Average annual income: $26,690
Movers typically work in settings such as warehouses, where they pack, transport, and take inventory of goods that pass through. Oftentimes, the job requirements are based less on education, or training, and more on physical ability. According to the BLS, increasing consumer spending will continue to drive the need for warehousing. While this means increased need for movers, some of the potential increase may be offset by greater automation of some operations. Many of these jobs are often low paying. Movers earned an average of just under $13 an hour — or less than $27,000 — last year.
7. Customer service representatives
• Total number of jobs: 2.4 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 12.6%
• Average annual income: $33,370
Customer service representatives handle customer questions and complaints, primarily over the phone. Pay is often low for customer service representatives, who earned an average of $33,370 as of 2013, versus a nationwide average of more than $46,000. Opportunities to earn more in the profession are somewhat limited. The top-paid 10% of all customer service representatives earned more than $50,570, versus more than $88,000 annually for the top 10% of all workers.
6. Waiters and waitresses
• Total number of jobs: 2.4 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 5.6%
• Average annual income: $20,880
Waiters earned an average of just $20,808 last year, among the lowest in the country, but the job has its perks. Many restaurants offer their servers free meals. Also, servers often receive gratuities in cash. The job, in many cases, offers flexible hours, which is beneficial to students and individuals seeking extra income from part-time work. Roughly half of all waiters and waitresses worked part-time as of 2012, according to the BLS. The number of waiters and waitresses is expected to grow by nearly 6% between 2012 and 2022.
5. Registered nurses
• Total number of jobs: 2.7 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 19.4%
• Average annual income: $68,910
Nursing is already one of the nation's most popular professions. And the BLS projects the number of registered nurses will continue to climb — by 19% between 2012 and 2022 — due to an aging population and improved access to health care services. There are several paths to becoming a registered nurse, including associate's and bachelor's degree programs, as well as nursing diploma programs. In addition to educational and licensing requirements, the work schedule of many nurses is demanding. However, nurses tend to be well paid, with an average annual wage of nearly $69,000 last year, well above the national average for all occupations.
4. Office clerks
• Total number of jobs: 2.8 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 6.2%
• Average annual income: $29,990
The responsibilities of office clerks vary from company to company, but they usually help make an office run smoothly. This involves sorting mail, editing and distributing memos, and copying, filing and organizing paper and electronic documents. The average office clerk earned $29,990 last year, making it among the lower paying occupations in the U.S. The skill set for the job typically does not require a college education. Pay was not especially high, even for top earners. Only 10% of clerks earned at least $45,350 per year. The number of clerks in the U.S. is expected to grow much more slowly than most occupations — by 6.2% between 2012 and 2022.
3. Food preparation and serving workers
• Total number of jobs: 3.0 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 14.2%
• Average annual income: $18,880
Food preparation and service workers are primarily employed in fast-food restaurants. The job usually does not require a high school diploma or long-term training. However, the physical demands of the job can be strenuous, and the environment, including hot ovens and wet floors, can be hazardous at times. The pay of many workers in food preparation and serving is very low. Workers earned an average of $9.08 per hour — less than half the U.S. average for all workers. In fact, many large employers in the industry have been criticized for their low pay. Half of all such workers were only employed part time as of 2012. A lack of full-time work is often cited as reason for why fast-food businesses fail to pay employees a living wage.
• Total number of jobs: 3.3 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 2.6%
• Average annual income: $20,420
Cashiers earned $20,420 on average as of 2013, one of the lowest salaries in the country. The number of cashiers in the U.S. is expected to grow by just 2.6% by 2022, well below the U.S. overall job growth expectation of 11% by that year, as self-service checkouts and online sales become more commonplace. According to BLS, roughly one-quarter of cashiers in the country worked in supermarkets, while 17% worked in gas stations.
1. Retail Salespersons
• Total number of jobs: 4.5 million
• Percent change 2012 to 2022: 9.8%
• Average annual income: $25,370
No profession had more workers than retail sales, with nearly 4.5 million employed as of May 2013. Retail salespersons can work selling a range of products, from apparel to electronics to cars. Retail salespeople are not necessarily paid well, earning an average hourly salary of $12.20 as of last year, or more than $10 per hour less than the average for all jobs. Roughly one-third of all retail salespersons worked part time in 2012, although some may want to work more. Many of the biggest retailers restrict hours to prevent workers from becoming full-time employees in order to limit their costs. Despite the growth in e-commerce, jobs for retail workers are expected to rise 10% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS.
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