Steadiest, Fastest-Growing Jobs: Service Gigs That Pay Poorly

In a tough job market, the industries that are growing the quickest and have been hiring like crazy are offering jobs with meager wages and duties that many workers find beneath them.

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The latest U.S. jobs report indicates that the economy added a mere 75,000 jobs per month during the April-June quarter and that the unemployment rate remains stuck at 8.2%. The news may seem worse in light of the kinds of jobs most likely to be created nowadays: the industries that are growing the quickest and have been hiring like crazy are offering jobs with meager wages and duties that many workers find beneath them.

Over the past two decades in the U.S., one category of employment has outgrown all the rest: personal-service jobs. The jobs that fall into this category include cutting hair, cleaning houses, assisting the elderly and serving burgers and fries in the fast-food world.

Besides the general idea that these jobs all involve helping others in some way or another, they have a few more things in common: they cannot easily be outsourced to overseas workers (or robots, for that matter), they tend to pay poorly (typically an hourly wage rather than a salary, and often $10 to $15 an hour or even less), and they tend to be the kinds of low-skill jobs that high school guidance counselors have traditionally suggested for students with barely passing grades. No wonder more and more people are questioning whether the American Dream still exists.

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From 1989 to 2007, a period when the American economy mostly boomed, the number of personal-service jobs grew by 36%, according to data cited by the Wall Street Journal. By contrast, middle-skill jobs, including work as clerks and in factory production, grew by just 5% during that period.

In the years during and after the Great Recession, the trend basically continued: from 2007 to 2010, when the overall number of jobs decreased by 6%, there was a 12% decline in middle-skill jobs, while personal-service employment was one of the only categories to post an increase (2%). Even though it’s nice to be employed in a growth industry, these personal-service jobs are often the option of last resort for workers. David Autor, an MIT economist who dissected decades of employment data in a recent report, explained to the WSJ why this is so:

These aren’t going to be high-paying jobs because the skills are quite generic. Anyone can be productive at them in the next day or two. If you had to choose which jobs you’d want to go away, you’d pick these low-wage jobs, not the middle-skill ones.

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It’s safe to say that many of today’s low-wage personal-service workers landed those positions only after failing to get hired for better-paying middle-skill jobs. Now, though, there are far more openings in the low-skill, low-wage job territory, with dramatic increases in hiring among home-health-aide companies and fast-food chains.

Perhaps no segment of the population knows this better than America’s young workers (or aspiring workers, as it were). As Bloomberg News and others have recently reported, one of the reasons joblessness among 16-to-24-year-olds was roughly double the national average (16.1% vs. 8.2%, respectively, in May) is that young people have often been competing with seniors who cannot retire or who simply want to stay in the workforce at least part time — and who obviously have plenty more work experience than someone who is 19. CBS Moneywatch noted that “of the 4.3 million jobs created in the past three years, nearly 3 million have gone to people over the age of 55.”

The scenario is one in which grandparents are essentially taking their grandkids’ jobs. And perhaps worst of all: they’re usually not even good jobs.

(MORE: The History of the American Dream: Is It Still Real?)

A new Urban Institute study predicts that hiring for middle-skill jobs won’t pick up anytime soon. Instead, “employment growth is projected to be slightly higher for jobs that require both the lowest and highest levels of education.” In other words, workers who used to have a shot at better-paying middle-skill jobs will probably have little choice but to go with low-skill, low-wage employment for years to come. And considering that the population is aging and that very few older Americans are confident they’ll have enough money to retire, the competition is likely to stay strong down the line for even those low-skill, low-wage jobs, among young and old alike.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

87 comments
IFMoy
IFMoy

$9 an hour to wipe somebody's behind is just as bad as working at Walmart's with no future, yet insurance co. charge $200-300 an hr. for in home care.

Mark_johnathan
Mark_johnathan

Common Man in United States is facing the problems of jobs

as this is the main country who has witnessed the giant problem of

recession. In this scenario small jobs like cleaning and self employed jobs are

quite effective .People must show their interest in it.Cleaning jobs

Mark_johnathan
Mark_johnathan

Common Man in United States are facing the problems of jobs as  this is the main country who has witnessed the giant problem of precession.in this scenario small jobs like cleaning and self employed jobs are quite effective .People must show their interest in it.

dpur_p
dpur_p

Let"s get contracts to get some of our money money back into U.S.A. Agreed! To do the Barder system  with other nations by ).33% too! An  to agreed! We nned to get our people back to work too!

nancydonns122
nancydonns122

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nancydonns122
nancydonns122

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nancydonns122
nancydonns122

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gabbyur24
gabbyur24

The American dream was just taken from citizens and freely given to over a million children of illegals while the effective unemployment rate in this country is 15% and if you include those underemployed, 25%.  Patty Murray (D), who touts herself as "the Veterans Senator" said, as committee leader overseeing Veteran's Affairs, that the unemployment rate among Veterans is 28%. It is 25-36% among Blacks depending on which stats one uses. Murray supports and encourages illegals to come here to take 7 million jobs OUTSIDE AGRICULTURE, as does Obama. If the Repub Leadership  in the House would bring E-Verify to the floor for a vote, it would pass with a huge majority.  Less than 5% of illegals work in agriculture. E-Verify would open up those 7 million jobs outside Agriculture and would cut our unemployment rate almost in half. The news media does a horrific disservice to our people by not informing them of the correlation between the 30 million illegals here filling jobs Americans WILL do and the jobless rate. Suicides among Veterans is up, as well as the general population, especially men. In my opinion, both parties in Congress and Obama are accessories to these suicides and destroyed lives. 

Greg_Linden
Greg_Linden

America is quickly becoming a post-apocalyptic movie from the 80's where rich people live in guarded enclaves and the poor roam the streets eating rats (and each other.)

Look at this map of the growth of the poor since the recession and tremble - http://debtandburied.com/2012/... 

Toothy Grins
Toothy Grins

no matter how you cut it, we have a problem.  Can we bring manufacturing back to our country now?  

BananaCharger
BananaCharger

I only want to know where I can send my 16 year old kid to find a job in this economy? Even McD's isn't hiring here. I thought if we gave the democrats the $780 billion they were going to fix everything. Maybe if I contribute to the re-election campaign someone will hire her.

AlterYourEgo
AlterYourEgo

If we want to get better jobs, then Americans need to focus more on developing math and science skills.  We need government and business to provide incentives to go into math, science and engineering.  I think we need to look across government programs to restructure incentives.  For instance, I think the GI Bill should be re-calibrated to provide full funding and extra give extra pay incentives for those who get educated in hard sciences, engineering, etc.    It would be much cheaper in the long run than extended unemployment benefits.  Unfortunately, the government is so busy paying off debt, lining the pockets of defense contractors, trying to salvage social programs and trying to keep bureaucrats bureaucratting that they are too busy to try to think of sensible ways to foster the creation of a newer, better and properly tooled American workforce.

frankblank
frankblank

The $15 per hour mentioned in the article is on high side in many states. Quite on the high side.

Want a shock, folks?  Check out the pay rates for Day Care Workers, Teacher Aids, and in small, private schools, Special Ed Teachers.  

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

America is supposed to be about individual liberty not about the corporations inalienable rights and especially not about their rights being more important than ours.

The natural short sighted corporate greed has infiltrated and completely compromised our government which is now completely incapable of controlling them for the public good.

We the people have let this happen.

In the end we will pay for it, then we will fix it.

eqreynolds
eqreynolds

And the media is mostly to blame. For years (since Reagan, at least) the media's concentration on STATISTICS has lead to a false sense of reality. The trend started with Reagan and gained steam with every Republican in office since -- OUTSOURCE, DOWNSIZE, and strip everything that protects or helps a WORKER and shovel all the wealth toward CEOs.

Hope y'all like the McWorld the GOP created, better teach your kids to like fries.

vstillwell
vstillwell

Maybe we can all get jobs mowing lawns at the mansions. 

Sean Taylor
Sean Taylor

 That's been the story ever since the early to mid 80s. Say thank you Mr. Reagan. That's how long we've been losing the "real" jobs to cheap overseas labor. Any time they announce job growth in this country it's always a field that absolutely can't be outsourced. As long as people are willing to work the mcdonalds type jobs, they will be here paying nothing. The country would fall apart if nobody was willing to do service industry jobs.

Danyz
Danyz

One part of this article especially caught my attention. What kind of high school councellor would suggest a McJob to a student with low grades? Why pay a professional to say what would be obvious to the poor kid? Any counsellor worth his salt would steer such a kid onto a trade school or an aprenticeship. And depressed grades do not necessarily reflect a kid's true potential. 

Bill
Bill

Cutting hair? My hair stylist makes about 60 bucks an hour doing that. I'd be glad to make that.

Guest
Guest

These jobs are perfect for illegals! American citizens to the back of the line.

nanomous
nanomous

That's right, corporate monsters, create a desparate underclass of people who are too busy trying to survive on zero wages as they strive to make you people rich to pay attention to what you are up to.  Shame shame shame. 

annashun1
annashun1

Honestly, I feel more attention needs to be paid to tech and manufacturing jobs that disappeared over the last 20 years to overseas countries. I don't really care who cleans my toilets or picks tomatoes... those jobs are so low hanging, I don't understand why so many Americans get so upset over who is working them.

I went into animation and graphics and am continually getting underbid by companies in India and China, so I understand and feel this problem firsthand.

 Ross Perot spoke about this WAY back when he was running for president.. that "Giant Sucking Sound" of American jobs disappearing was something that was begun many, many years ago... and now look at things: American seniors competing with American youth for low-pay, no benefit service jobs. 

And moreover, technology being what it is, you will also see many of these service jobs disappear to computers or robots to save the bottom line. We are in a jam here, and no one's coming up with any good ideas to get out of it. You have to ask yourself, how would any level of economic equilibrium for a population be reached, much less growth attained, when as a nation we have literally sold the future down the river. I'm wondering if I should just take my skills and move overseas as well.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Much of the media led hoopla about job recovery is focused simply on new jobs, but the reality is that the new jobs all pay a lot less than the old jobs which were cut.

Net result is that even with more jobs, recovery is nonsense because the new hire's can't afford to live let alone contribute to the economy.

The "Economic Recovery" is Hooey!

The reality is we are still headed for disaster at full steam ahead.

Jeff Mullins
Jeff Mullins

As college graduate who graduated in the late 80's there has never been any job boom other than the jobs listed above.  This is not a new trend...and I've heard the entire time that the jobs here were going to be "service jobs".  Isn't this what the wealthy people wanted.  Now no one can buy the product that made them wealthy. 

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

This isn't directed at Obama or Romney but more the American people. Wake up, America! We have a structural problem with our employment, education and immigration policies. The only way this will be fixed is to do the following:

#1. Bring jobs back home.

#2. Reform education with tracking that right sizes the number of students going to college and pushes more down vocational training.

#3. Come to grips with immigration. There's nothing inherently wrong with Obama's plan to give work visas to those 30 and under brought here as minors. But we have to accept that sound immigration policy also demands a full fence backed up by e-verify to ensure workers are here legally.

Answer this simple question: How much better would our employment situation, loss of tax revenue, lowered healthcare costs, etc. be if 95% of the illegals working to support various industries self-deported and those with low skills and able bodied  replaced them? We're talking at least 10 million jobs, many of which are in the well paying construction industry. This one step alone would pull America out of our recession.

Samian
Samian

So Senior Citizens are hogging up youngsters' jobs, gobbling up youngsters' paychecks due to Social Security and Medicare, are the beneficiaries of the lion's share of the US entitlement deficit spending, etc etc etc... and THEY'RE the ones who are telling youngsters to "get a job" and "quit being lazy"?

Oh, please.

They remind me of those signs those Tea Partiers hold up: "Get your government hands off of my Medicare!"  Hypocrites.