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Fading Traditions


It's the story of our times: Workers watch helplessly as new technology makes their jobs obsolete--then technology morphs again and creates new jobs.

The phenomenon is not nearly as modern as one might think.

"In one sense, there is nothing new under the sun, but we always look at our own time and situation as being unique," said Daniel Mitchell(cq), professor of labor at UCLA. "This has been going on for a long time. We're always seeing a revolution. There are a lot of jobs going away, but also many that didn't exist not so long ago."

A look back is illuminating. In the late 1920s when dial telephones became the rage, many telephone operators were suddenly without jobs. But during the Depression years of 1929 through 1932, new technology helped create employment. Jobs in radio broadcasting, for instance, doubled during that time.

By 2005, the nation's job growth is expected to be highly concentrated in certain industries, with service, retail, health and business all growing, and manufacturing, crafts, repairs and mining industries showing declines.

Just take a look at the 10 fastest-shrinking jobs. Several of them, such as secretary, bank teller and farmer, are becoming automated or outmoded due to new technology. Also worth noting is that certain occupations that are fading elsewhere in the country are growing in Los Angeles.

"It's the same story on and on: Just as fast as technology outmodes some jobs, it creates new ones," said George Silvestri(cq), labor economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "These shrinking jobs are often traditional jobs."


The 10 Fastest-Shrinking Jobs:

1. Computer Operator

Down 37%

The talking computer Hal of movie fame is not so far away. As technology continues to advance, the need for humans to operate large mainframes is expected to decline sharply. These new developments will continue to automate computer operations, making flesh-and-blood operators obsolete. Advances in technology will also continue to reduce both the size and cost of computer equipment while increasing the capacity for data storage and processing.


2. Typist and Word Processor

Down 33%

Having a secretary in the year 2000 could be a stigma rather than a status symbol, experts say. With more young executives comfortable at computers and typing letters themselves, the demand for traditional "pink-collar" jobs such as secretary is declining. The development of new technology that allows more data to be collected at the point of origin, or to be transmitted electronically, means fewer typists are needed. Whereas corporations once had massive typing or secretarial pools, nowadays more executives are taking care of certain tasks themselves.

"With voicemail and e-mail, who needs a secretary?" said Joel Kotkin(cq), a senior fellow at the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy. "In fact, having a secretary just shows what a dinosaur you are."


3. Machine Tool Operator

Down 29%

Nationwide, there will be a widespread decline in the manufacturing sector, with 1.3 million jobs expected to be lost between 1994 and 2005. Machine tool operators, fabricators, laborers and repair workers are expected to account for more than 1 million of these lost jobs. While this is the case for most of America, Kotkin notes that Los Angeles is bucking the trend. There is actually a lack of machinists in Los Angeles County, where manufacturing is making a comeback, he said. "This is also true in a few other areas of the country," Kotkin said.


4. Bank Teller

Down 27%

Here's another traditional pink-collar job on the endangered list. Due to the double whammy of bank consolidations and new technology such as automated teller machines, the number of tellers in the banking industry will be dramatically reduced. By 2005, there will be 152,000 fewer tellers, who traditionally have been women. While qualified applicants may still find jobs, the long-term trend is downward.


5. Sewing Machine Operator

Down 26%

While the number of jobs operating sewing machines is expected to decline nationwide by 140,000 by 2005, in Los Angeles it's a different story. With the city's growing garment industry, there is a shortage of skilled sewing machine operators, said Kotkin. Many employers are unable to fill such positions, he said.

6. Duplicating, Mail and other Office Machine Coordinators

Down 25%

The motto of many offices today is "Do it yourself." This means less demand for copier and mail clerks, as many workers make their own copies and perform tasks once left to assistants. Greater automation makes this possible.


7. Textile Workers

Down 25%

The textile industry has been hurt by increased automation and foreign competition, resulting in a much smaller need for workers nationwide. "Foreign competition has really eaten into the U.S. market," said analyst Silvestri. That's not the case, however, in Los Angeles, where this industry helps drive the local economy.


8. Private household workers

Down 22%

The limited supply of people willing to work in this field has given rise to child-care and house-cleaning firms, which, in turn, hurts overall employment in this field.

Because not as many households need or can afford full-time maids or nannies, more individuals are working at several homes a day. While short-term job prospects are good, the bureau says this is a shrinking industry.


9. Farmer

Down 21%

Maybe the song should have been "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Farmers." Bigger and more automated farms mean employment will continue to decline in this sector. The number of farm jobs is expected to decrease by 277,000 by 2005.


10. Personnel Clerk (except payroll and timekeeping)

Down 21%

Increasing automation will make this pink-collar standby obsolete. Despite an increasing workload, machines will do more and more of this routine paperwork.

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