1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: Travel agent
Getty Images
Travel agents have lost 12,500 jobs in just five years. Economists believe Internet technology is erasing the demand for these workers.
updated 7/10/2011 12:10:40 PM ET 2011-07-10T16:10:40

“The American dream is dead for the majority of America,” financial guru Suze Orman told Forbes last year, speaking about her upcoming book "The Money Class."

The dream she was referring to isn’t a Cinderella story. Rather, Orman believes the hope of someday owning a home, of working one job for life and retiring at 65 has been crushed by the financial crisis. “The middle class has disappeared,” she said. “Many of the millions of jobs lost I don’t think are coming back. I am really afraid for the majority of Americans today.”

Are stable, well-paying middle-class jobs an endangered species? Economists say: Sort of.

Forbes.com slideshow: 10 disappearing middle-class jobs

“The idea that one can have a single-earner family, get a good job, keep it for life and have a comfortable living is all but gone,” says Kevin Hallock, professor of labor economics and director of the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University. “Long-term job stability is declining, and there aren’t good unionized jobs like there once were.”

The recession may have just complicated and compounded what was already occurring. Generally, jobs are disappearing where there’s been a technological advance — “where a human was doing something, now a technology is doing it" — or a change in the way that organizations function, says Hallock. And not only are old-fashioned assembly line jobs on the decline, several white-collar office positions are also in jeopardy.

“There has been some long-term decline in middle-income jobs,” says Harry Holzer, Georgetown University economist and co-author of "Where Are All The Good Jobs Going." “Specifically, it’s good-paying production and clerical jobs that are disappearing.”

Forbes.com: The 10 best employers in retail

Holzer is quick to say that though there has been “shrinkage,” he remains confident that there are many good jobs in the middle — they may just look different.

New technology has gradually cut into many steady jobs that had previously been critical to the market. Clerical occupations are shrinking fast, as companies tighten budgets and easy-to-use software enables workers to do their own administrative tasks. According to data provided by Moody’s, nearly 300,000 office and administrative support positions gradually disappeared in the five years before 2009, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects continued contraction throughout the next decade.

Because over 20 million people count on clerical work, the vanishing act is a major blow to the middle, but there are other more niche positions that are also on the chopping block. Internet travel sites have essentially erased the need for travel agents, an occupation which declined by 14 percent and 12,500 jobs in the last five years for which data is available. Similarly, proofreaders — generally highly skilled workers with a four-year college degree — were once vital to publications and communications departments. These positions shriveled by 31 percent, likely due to advanced software, Holzer says.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Social media tipsters hope to solve Philadelphia hate crime case

      Social media sometimes gets a bad rap as the scourge of modern society, but in Philadelphia this week, police are hopeful ...

    2. Family lauds Miranda Lambert for concert gesture
    3. Why one dad hates homework as much as his kid does
    4. Mom's home! Toddler ignores military protocol, runs into soldier's arms
    5. For the win: TODAY fans pass along pics of their girls on the gridiron

Forbes.com: The companies hiring the most in sales right now

“Having a college diploma doesn’t make you immune to the shifts in the labor market,” notes Holzer. “It is a testament to the churning in the U.S. market.”

Educated and skilled professionals sometimes fall victim to structural changes in their sectors. Broadcast news analysts and advertising and promotions managers experienced five-year declines of 16 percent and 33 percent respectively. The adjustment follows a wide-spread media transition to online content and shrinking advertising revenue and budgets. Likewise, agricultural engineering jobs contracted by 18 percent, despite the general demand for engineers, because agriculture is a declining sector.

Economists hope these changes will result in creative destruction — new middle-class jobs will emerge to balance out those that were lost. However, Hallock believes companies are still nervous about growing their ranks. “It’s expensive to hire and fire workers,” he says. “Companies are reluctant to hire now. It’s exacerbating the problem.”

Forbes.com: Updates on america's most promising companies class of 2009
Forbes.com: America's favorite bosses
Forbes.com: The year's most memorable new products

© 2012 Forbes.com


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Courtesy of Jessica Hester

    Family lauds Miranda Lambert for concert gesture

    9/18/2014 12:34:48 AM +00:00 2014-09-18T00:34:48
  1. Twitter cia Greg Bennett

    Social media tipsters hope to solve Philadelphia hate crime case

    9/17/2014 11:25:24 PM +00:00 2014-09-17T23:25:24
  1. Obama: US will not fight another ground war in Iraq

    The U.S. will not send armed forces to fight a ground war in Iraq, President Barack Obama told service members at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, a day after his top military adviser said he could envision recommending the president deploy ground troops.

    9/17/2014 3:51:00 PM +00:00 2014-09-17T15:51:00
  1. Why one dad hates homework as much as his kid does

    9/17/2014 9:06:38 PM +00:00 2014-09-17T21:06:38