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.

82 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

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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. 

KevininPHX
KevininPHX

Yeah right, a returning veteran is going to be happy to get a job washing dishes for $8.00 an hour. I know fox would like you to believe Obama allowed the evil brown skins to take all our good jobs.

You must not have been paying attention when the republicans were shipping all our decent paying jobs overseas. You know, so they could extract another dollar out of something, and not pay tax. But that was so they could ”create jobs.” Then the money would trickle down. It's really quite simple.

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.  

MaliceUnchained
MaliceUnchained

Exactly, try $7.25/hr for these jobs. Of course, it was a while ago, but it took me four years of post-college experience, plus the degree, to get anywhere close to $15/hr, and along the way, I was called an "idiot" for getting an education. However, in college, I developed a chronic bowel condition that precludes me from taking a wage-slave job with no access to a bathroom, and without either a living wage, healthcare, or ideally both so I can afford to stay healthy, what hope do I have? 

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.

Christopher Kidwell
Christopher Kidwell

Only problem is that the only way to 'fix it' with the total corrupt government that we have today is to get rid of our governing bodies and start over, putting into place a few rules:

1. No lobbying by any corporation. Private citizen lobbying is okay and non-profit, non-corporate sponsored lobbying by organizations is okay.

2. Once you take a job regulating an industry, you have to sign an agreement saying that you will never take a job with that industry for the rest of your life and will not take any cash in any form, whether gifts or cash, from that industry.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Pretty much what I was thinking.

I actually envision global economic collapse beginning with us and worse to follow.

It's going to hurt, but it's inevitable and it's how we respond that will determine our future or whether we even have one.

And I do agree that by whatever means necessary a future government must be immune to corrupting and biasing influences.

That is going to be hard, but if we fail we probably fail as a species.

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. 

Christopher Kidwell
Christopher Kidwell

True. Many children with the worst grades in school get those 'bad grades' because they are being pressured by other students to not excel or they are so far in front of their class that they are getting bored and just say "To hell with this!"

I personally did that in elementary school and they finally moved me up a few grade levels in math and science and reading. Helped a lot.

Bill
Bill

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

Ben IncaHutz
Ben IncaHutz

 Then why does your hair look like its cut with a Flowbee?

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. 

unidentified1
unidentified1

Republicans want do away with education, child labor laws, abortion, etc. You then have people so desperate to feed their families, who due to their poor education can not expect to get better paying jobs.

Or as  GOP amp; Big Business says, a win win!

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

And, of course, there's no greed in unions or those sponging off welfare. Oh no! Corporate America is evil and responsible 100% for all of our problems.

MaliceUnchained
MaliceUnchained

Welfare, or TANF as it's now called, already has work and education requirements (you have to be working or in job training or school for 30+ hours a week) as well as lifetime limits (after a couple years, you're cut off). The amount in TANF people get is a couple thousand dollars a year at most, and the application process is very rigorous, so most people are denied. Yet multinational corporations like General Electric get 7 million dollar tax refunds with some clever lawyering and accounting. 

So who do you blame? The guy getting 2K a year for 3 years from Uncle Sam, of course. Not the billionaire, who orders you to look the other way, and gives you the option to either pay taxes at a 35% rate or go to jail, while you tell the billionaire, "Yes sir, I'll pay your share and mine, sir," oh no! Boy, the Alzheimer's-addled actor from California sure hoodwinked you with his fairy tale about the lady in the projects who spent her welfare checks on Bergdorf-Goodman and Mercedes-Benz, didn't he?

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

The problem with the Unions is because in many ways they act just like those giant corporations, serving their own officers rather than their public.

That is the same problem not a different one.

Welfare sponging like disability insurance fraud is something that the 1 percent seems to be very concerned about while sheltering their taxes in ways available to no one else.

And while corporate America and our compromised government have certainly taken a commanding lead in our problems, we the people are at fault for letting them.

That will end soon!

Christopher Kidwell
Christopher Kidwell

Missing that many times the rank and file have voted for those positions that the higher up members in the Union push.

Chosun1
Chosun1

There is plenty of greed all around -- unions are no exception.

Dakota44
Dakota44

Yes it is.  Why did unions come to exist?  Look at the historical reasons.  The elite back then paid starvation  wages,  benefits did not exist, no such thing as sick leave, being forced to work 70 hours a week was not uncommon, forget about a vacation and when workers rebelled against abusive conditions they were usually met with enforcers wielding bats or worse.   Henry Ford brought in strike breakers who used brutality, but in the end Ford had to give in.  Don't even try to imagine what happened to coal miners.  

We are heading in the same direction today with Republicans trying to strike down minimum wage laws in many states, with "at will" employment which leaves the worker with no rights for wrongful dismissal, Republican attempts to lower the legal age to work and also extend the permitted hours because, you know, nothing beats paying a kid peanuts and leaving them no time to study.  The way the country is heading, with corporate Americas encouragement, is back to the early 20th century when workers had no rights and often did not dare to demand them.  

Henry Ford, for the often bad human being he was (think Nazi sympathizer, among other things) was smarter than some in business today. Why?  He infuriated his competitors by paying his workers the unheard of wage of $5 a day.  Why?  Because then they could afford to buy his cars. 

Unions have certainly gone off the track and too far in many cases, but often that fault is at the feet of those who caved in to them.   Governments, city, county, state and federal, gave away the store without much of a fight.  Auto manufacturers did the same thing.  There is nothing wrong with unions to protect workers rights, but the excesses need to be stopped.  

vstillwell
vstillwell

Your post has no data to back it up. The top tier have more wealth today than at any point in this nation's history. We're getting ready to elect more Republicans who want to cut the capital gains taxes for the wealthy, therefore, concentrating more wealth at the top. I just don't get the logic behind your post. Social spending on the poor is a very minor part of the federal budget and unions are all but defunct anymore.

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

Nope. Here's what I'm saying. Take a calculator and input $1.4T. Then, divide this number by 300M, which of course is your share of the national debt. Now call or e-mail all your friends and then tell them that they have to do the same thing as you, call more friends and tell them how much they own the government. Then make sure you send your check to the IRS pronto, including any dependents. I'll leave the multiplication to you and your calculator.

And did you graduate high school? When did being a fiscal conservative become associated with Communism. If there's anyone pushing the Communist / Socialist envelope these days, it's Obama.

Um. Freebie. Wealth redistribution means taking from the rich and giving to the poor, bro! But don't act like I'm advocating shutting down the social safety net. Nope. Far from it. Again, for the 100th time, my simple point is that EVERYONE HAS TO GIVE UP SOMETHING. I'm not saying how much poor people have to give up. And nor am I saying that poor should have to pony up more than the rich. But there have to be radical changes in terms of figuring out ways to cut government spending and increase revenues in a neutral fashion.

vstillwell
vstillwell

Free candy? Where? How on earth are poor people getting more freebies? Their share of the national income keeps falling. So, basically, you're saying that by getting less, the poor are getting more? 

Continued decline because of globalization. You're freedom loving dumb a$$ gladly supports Communist regimes around the world. Good job, jacka$$!.

Christopher Kidwell
Christopher Kidwell

So basically, worleyeoe, you want us to work for slave wages like the people in China do?

Hell no and I personally believe that you should be arrested as a traitor to this country for pushing that.

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

And your post does? Where? Go ask Walker, Brown, Cuomo, and Christie how much power unions in their states have.

The decline of unions is part of the great global wealth redistribution, which can only be corrected by their continued decline, making American labor more competitive.

Your point about welfare is most likely correct but my point is that, in order to correct our $1,400,000,000,000 annual deficits, EVERYONE has to take a pay cut (i.e., either an actual cut in pay, benefits or reduced dependence on the government). That's a big number, bro, that we're in the black every year. You don't plug that black hole without radical changes. Go spend a month in Greece.

And Romney isn't going to win because 30 million people just got free or nearly free healthcare. American's love free and reward those who hand out the candy.

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

Great response, but moving over seas isn't going to help, when we finally go down the toilet, so does the rest of the world.

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.

Christopher Kidwell
Christopher Kidwell

True. The only way to stop the disaster is to put back into place punitive tariffs against countries like China and Russia who are not adhering to their responsibilities under the free trade laws.

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. 

Jeff Mullins
Jeff Mullins

As I've thought more about this, hasn't the U.S. been considered the world's shoppers.  We bought everything we could get our hands on.  I'm not defending this way of life.  It's just how it was.  Now that we can no longer buy what we want, because our wages are pathetic, hasn't that brought a down turn in the worlds economy?  I'm not, in any way defending that type of  consumerism.   But since we no longer make the wages we used to..thanks to this "service economy"...... are those who decided how our economy should be changed to be blamed for the world downturn?   Just a thought........

MaliceUnchained
MaliceUnchained

Agreed. Everyone from Gen-X knows that the "McJob" was the only real job growth we've "enjoyed" in our adult working lives. In fact, I didn't hold a job with a salary and benefits until I was almost 27 years old. I spent the first 5 1/2 years out of college holding down three, four, five part-time positions at once, or contract jobs with finite end dates, none of which had benefits, just to get that coveted experience in my field. 

Christopher Kidwell
Christopher Kidwell

Have to agree with that. It took me until I was 24 in order to get out of the warehouse job for 10 dollars an hour thing and into a job that paid me enough that I could have, if I wished to, afforded to move out of my parents home.

Dwight__Lee
Dwight__Lee

"Now no one can buy the product that made them wealthy."

We are constantly surrounded by users of smart phones and portable computers, and we see plenty of slick new cars on the road.  To me, it looks like at least some folks can buy those wealth-generating products.  (Perhaps with some easy credit to help.)