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
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: