The American economy has been gaining strength for several years, yet we've recovered less than half the jobs we lost. Many say this is because businesses don't want to spend the cash to hire. Others blame it on companies shipping jobs to cheaper hands overseas. But according to an analysis by The Associated Press, most of those jobs have completely vanished, perhaps for our lifetimes, because of tech that's here to stay.
In the past few tight years, companies have been all the more eager to adopt new technology, if it meant shaving off some labor costs. This has happened over and over again since the industrial revolution; technological advancements lead to bouts of higher unemployment. But in the end, new and more sophisticated jobs are made, and productivity and living standards rise.
Unfortunately, those periods of transition can be long and tortured. And according to the Associated Press, we've only just begun.
It isn't just assembly line workers who risk replacement by robot; many service-sector jobs -- the largest pillar of our workforce -- disappeared during the recession, and continue to disappear during the recovery. Many white collar jobsthat require bachelor's degrees have felt the squeeze too. As long as a brilliant wunderkind can write a piece of software to do the job, the job is no longer safe.
Here are seven middle class jobs that are currently vanishing:
Booking flights, hotels, and guided tours used to be tasks that required mysterious knowledge and thousands of phone calls. It was a job that required an expert. Now it's a job that requires a few free hours and some poking around on Expedia. American Express Co. announced this month that it plans to slash 5,400 jobs, largely in its travel business. And this bodes badly for things to come.
Paralegals probably thought they were safe; nestled into law firms, digging through documents, deciphering legalese. Unfortunately, much paralegal work boils down to picking out keywords, and highlighting sections of documents that might be useful for the lawyer on the case. We may not be there yet, but a future in which software can do all that decently, in just a few seconds, is not that far away.
CNNMoney recently profiled Nelson Springer, a Macy's shoe salesman, who in the last year has seen his commission shrink by $5,000. It may truly be the death of the salesman. This past Black Friday, shoppers spent over $1 billion online -- a 26 percent increase from the same day last year. E-commerce has soared at a dizzying rate, radically changing the way we hunt deals and judge products. It's also radically eliminated the jobs of many salespeople.
Accounting is a skilled job. It requires a Bachelor's degree and a keen eye, a knack for figures, and a scrupulous disposition. Unfortunately, software is also very skilled, and the meticulous examination of financial records is something that technology is very quickly learning to do.
Every time you book a room using an online form or arrange a meeting with an email, you've taken a task away from an office manager. Many of the coordinating, record-keeping jobs that offices need to run smoothly are now being done with a click. And each of those clicks pushes office managers and assistants closer to extinction.
Just a little over a decade ago, there were 56,000 utility meter readers in the U.S., according to the Labor Department and reported by the AP. Since then, that number has shrunk by almost 40 percent. With smart readers, both companies and residents can check how much electricity they're using on the internet -- no need for a guy to stop by and check a reader face-to-face. This empowers consumers to track and cut down on their own consumption. It also means that one day, in not too long, all utility meter readers could be out of the job.
While actually human human resources managers will still be necessary for all the delicate personnel handling -- recruiting, hiring, firing, conflict resolutions, and the like -- the basic bookkeeping of benefits and payroll is no longer done in books, and no longer needs so many keepers.