More than 25%, or over 2 million, of the jobs that were erased from the economy over the past two years are probably gone for good.
Going back to the beginning of the 20th century, we’ve seen dozens of occupations disappear. As computers and automated systems increasingly take the jobs humans once held, more and more professions are becoming or are now extinct.
Consider the iceman. Before electric refrigerators became pervasive in the 1940s, iceboxes needed to be stocked regularly with ice to keep food cold. With advances in manufacturing and automation, the need for deliverymen to haul 25 to 100 chunks of ice into homes disappeared.
Anyone remember the lector? Probably not, unless you lived nearly 100 years ago. Lectors in the early 1900s read newspapers and political tracts aloud to factory workers. The occupation was particularly popular in cigar makers in Florida and New York City. Today a lector would easily be replaced by two ear buds and an iPod.
Other jobs that used to employ thousands of people but have disappeared during the latter part of the 20th century include elevator operators, copy boys, bowling alley pinsetters, river drivers, lamplighters, milkmen, switchboard operators, typists, typesetters and telegraph operators.
The loss of jobs due to occupation extinction is expected to continue unabated over the next decade. At least 50% of workers in the American job market today work in people-powered industries like fast-food restaurants, delivery companies, hospitality and warehousing. All of these jobs are prime targets for robotic replacement, says Marshall Brain, the author of “How Stuff Works.” They will likely fall victim to automation and globalization just like textile jobs did beginning in the 1970s.
Brain wrote in his essay, “Robotic Freedom,” that in 2003 we saw the deployment of automated checkout lines in retail stores. By 2015 we will start to see voice-recognizing robots helping customers in these stores, inventory-shelving robots putting the products out, cleaning robots sweeping the floors and parking lots, and cart robots bringing the shopping carts back into the store.
Job extinction won’t stop there. Other occupations that will decline the most for through 2018, measured by percentage change in jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics include the following: