The Job 'Globalization' Can't Touch

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If you want a job that will survive globalization, think about driving a truck for a living.

That's the message of a colorful map from National Public Radio that shows the most common jobs in every state, based on an analysis of U.S. Census data.

And, it allows comparison with previous Census data gathered since 1978.

As the map vividly shows, truck driving is now the most common employment in 29 of the 50 states.Is this "the Amazon effect?" Maybe, in part, as Americans are kept busy getting packages to other Americans who buy online instead of in the malls. The Census Bureau category of "truck driver" is wide, ranging from long-haul drivers of big tractor-trailers to the UPS delivery guy.

> Find a trucking job

But the full story is much richer in its reflection of the changes in the U.S. and the world, as NPR points out. Truck driving is uniquely immune to two of the biggest macro-economic trends of recent years:
  • A Chinese worker can't replace an Ohio truck driver.
  • A machine can't replace an Ohio truck driver, either. (Well, maybe it can, but driver-less 18-wheelers are mercifully not yet allowed on the nation's highways.)

Other big trends in the work world are evident from the map.
  • Regional specialization has declined. Smoke-stack industries moved from the Northeast to the South to the Midwest, and then to Asia. But every state still needs its truck drivers.
  • Small farms were absorbed into Big Agriculture. Today, farming is the most common occupation only in the Dakotas. Farm-country giants like Iowa and Kansas are no longer dominated by independent farmers. (The data defines a farmer as an owner or operator of a farm, excluding farm workers from the category.)
  • The District of Columbia is going white-collar. Once dominated by secretaries, and later by janitors, the capital's most-common occupation is now lawyer.
  • Secretaries are becoming extinct. Personal computers converted white-collar workers into do-it-yourself typists, file clerks, spreadsheet-creators and self-schedulers. As recently as 1990, secretarial jobs dominated many states, including Texas, California and most of the Northeast. Now, it's the most common job only in a few states, including New Jersey and New Hampshire.
Some striking footnotes of the map show how states have altered beyond stereotypes.
  • The most common job in Utah is now software programmer. The state has transformed itself into a tech hub, in competition with Washington State (ahem, Seattle) and North Carolina.
  • The most common job in Florida is not elder care. It's primary school teacher. They top the jobs scene in several other states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and West Virginia. Only New York State is currently dominated by health care workers.
One caveat: The Census Department has one broad category for truck drivers, but other job categories are more finely drawn. For instance, it has distinct categories for primary school and secondary school teachers. That skews the figures a bit, making truck drivers seem even more dominant in the jobs market than they are.
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