How Shrinking Occupations Could Explain Rising Economic Anxiety

White men, older adults and less-educated workers are more likely to work in disappearing Jobs

By Nick Timiraos

A new analysis shows disappearing jobs have neither the highest unemployment rates, nor the lowest incomes, which may help explain why economic anxiety remains high among those who aren’t necessarily the worst off in today’s labor market. Photo: Mike Groll/Associated Press


The occupations most likely to shrink over the next decade may help explain why older, white American men are signaling greater economic anxiety: They’re most likely to hold those disappearing jobs.

Economist Jed Kolko analyzed Labor Department projections and Census Bureau demographic data and found white men, older adults and the less educated are all more likely to be employed in work that’s expected to decline over the next decade.

The analysis shows these jobs have neither the highest unemployment rates, nor the lowest incomes, which may help explain why economic anxiety remains high among those who aren’t necessarily the worst off in today’s labor market.

Strong support for Donald Trump among the white working class has produced a steady diet of analyses for what might fuel his rise. A Gallup survey last month suggested his supporters are more easily identified by measures of racial isolation and cultural anxiety than by their personal economic well-being. The Gallup survey and others have examined concerns over declining standards of living, including rising mortality and health issues.

Mr. Kolko found that 15.3% of white men who are 55 or older and who have a high school diploma or didn’t finish high school have jobs that are projected to shrink. That’s well above the national average of 10.7%.

Older Americans are more likely to have fading jobs, even though they have lower unemployment rates and higher incomes than younger working-age adults.

Mr. Kolko said even if demographic groups more likely to support Mr. Trump aren’t the worst off measured solely by incomes or unemployment, the prospect of job losses for these groups warrant more attention.

“Economic anxiety is more understandable and justified—and deserves to be taken more seriously—when we look at a broader set of measures that includes the risk of your job disappearing,” he said.

His analysis finds roughly similar shares of white men and Hispanic men are employed in occupations projected to shrink, but the disproportionate share of Hispanic men employed in farming, forestry and fishing jobs—all of which may taper off—may overstate the similarity between these two groups.

When excluding farming, fishing and forestry work, the share of white men in shrinking occupations is highest by a statistically significant margin.

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