Jobs outlook reflects drive for more profits


The next decade looks good for travel agents, private detectives and subway operators. But don't even think about becoming a butcher, watchmaker or shipfitter.

So says the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which periodically borrows a standard commercial computer model of the economy, massages the numbers a bit and then grinds out predictions of where the jobs will be.

As a soothsayer, the bureau is distinctly fallible: Too much, after all, turns on such imponderables as the rate of military spending and the Federal Reserve's ability to keep the economy out of recession.

Still, Uncle Sam's educated guesses offer some striking insights into the ways business is trying to squeeze more value from fewer dollars paid to labor.

As might be expected, virtually every unskilled or semiskilled job linked to manufacturing is a loser. Manufacturing output will continue to grow, said Ronald Kutscher, associate commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But productivity is rising more rapidly than demand, undermining employment in several categories, from tire makers to printers to a catch-all called "packing and filling machine operators."

Jobs most vulnerable to imports -- those requiring a lot of semiskilled labor to add value -- will likely be a drag on the market.

It wasn't much fun being an American shoe or apparel worker in competition with Asian and Latin workers over the past decade, and it will probably be even less fun in the next.

But other predicted changes catch subtler trends. The number of child-care workers, over all, is expected to rise by more than 60 percent by the year 2005, as more mothers go back to work sooner.

The number of legal child-care workers in private households, however, is expected to decline, as servants become a less-affordable luxury. This seemingly paradoxical trend is mirrored in other personal services: Private cooks and maids are apparently an endangered species, as demand shifts to restaurant cooks, bakers, manicurists, bellhops, and laundry and dry-cleaning workers.

Technology and changing tastes produce similar double plays. The number of farmers will continue to decline as agricultural productivity grows relentlessly, while the number of nursery-farm workers will increase with the rising demand for garden plants and specialized farm crops.

The entertainment industry is booming, opening jobs for producers, directors, actors and amusement park attendants. Meanwhile, film projectionists are succumbing to the automation of multiplex theaters.

The aging of the population -- more specifically, the explosive growth in the number of Americans over the age of 80 -- is driving demand for home care aides, as well as the demand for most categories of health care workers.

But the pattern of job growth will be powerfully influenced by efforts to contain medical costs: physical therapists, dental hygienists, medical secretaries, registered nurses, psychologists -- in short, anyone who can reduce the work load on high-priced physicians -- will be in demand.

What works for health care apparently works for the other expensive service that Americans cannot seem to do without but do not wish to pay for: legal representation. Legal secretaries and paralegals (lawyers' assistants) are both in the Top 50 job categories. Lawyers are conspicuously absent.

Perhaps most striking is the shuffle of jobs in industries dependent on electronics.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs will disappear in telecommunications and office work, as microprocessors and radio transmitters replace humans in directory assistance, switchboard operations, switching equipment maintenance, telephone and cable television wiring, bill posting, word processing and data entry.

On the other hand, many new jobs will be created to aid in computer design and repair, software innovation and computerized page layout for magazines and newspapers.

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