Technology killed the switchboard operator, the lamp lighter and the ice cutter. And it’s a threat for workers in a variety of other fields, including drill-press operators and lumberjacks.

Share story

Technology killed the switchboard operator, the lamp lighter and the ice cutter. And it’s a threat for workers in a variety of other fields, including drill-press operators and lumberjacks.

“When economies change, it kills opportunities,” says Mike Davis, an economist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “But it also brings opportunities. If you know how to run the technology, you’re a very important person.”

Job-search website CareerCast recently published a report on what it says are the most endangered jobs of 2014. The report, based primarily on U.S. Department of Labor data, lists 10 jobs that could face the largest decline in workforce by 2022.

Those jobs, which are declining for various reasons, are letter carriers, farmers, meter readers, news reporters, travel agents, lumberjacks, flight attendants, drill-press operators, printers and tax examiners/collectors.
Still, some of those workers say they’ve seen employment rise recently — with technology helping add to the workforce.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

For example, online shopping makes more work for postal employees. “There actually is a little bit of a silver lining on the horizon,” says Jim Sauber, chief of staff for the National Association of Letter Carriers.

A job on the decline might still have new opportunities, says Michael Wolf, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics who helped compile the original labor list. “These occupations are declining, so there might be fewer opportunities in the future, but it doesn’t mean there will be no opportunities,” he says.

Here’s a sample of workers in three of those occupations.

Farmers

Baugh Farms has always been in the family. Don and Marla Baugh have taken over some of the same land in Canton, Texas, that Don’s father farmed for 53 years. They even use some of the same old tractors. “It’s just kind of in my blood,” Don says.

Yet a lot has changed. Among the challenges, he says, is that it’s hard to find reliable help, and the cost of everything from the fertilizer to the equipment has gone up. They usually just break even.

“Profit margins are so thin. It takes a lot of acres to be a decent farmer, and there is only so much land available, only so much left,” says Blake Bennett, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist.

Last month, the Baughs were at the end of their summer produce, which included heirloom tomatoes, peaches and melons, and are preparing their fall harvest. They work about 10 to 12 hours every day. Their son, Charley, 29, helps when he’s not at his regular job at a bank.

Every Saturday, the Baughs — along with Charley, Charley’s fiancée and Don’s daughter — go to five Dallas-area farmers markets, often selling to shoppers who have become regulars. Nearly 600 people have “liked” their Facebook page. They count several restaurants as customers.

For many years, farming was a side business while Don worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Marla was a teacher. They farmed to send Charley to college, Marla says. The work became full time after they both retired.
“If we didn’t have retirement, we wouldn’t make it as farmers,” she says.

They want to keep up their two farms so they can leave them to their children, Marla says. And they enjoy it. “You really have to love to do this, because it’s a lot of hard work,” she says.

Flight attendants

Margo Valencia walked through the aisles of the airplane, performing her job as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, just as she had since 2008. She spied a man flipping through a photo album of himself with famous singers.
The man, who was autistic, told her he loved to sing. Valencia smiled and handed him the plane’s intercom. “Have you ever sung on a plane before?” she asked him.

“No,” he replied.

“Would you like to?”

The man took the intercom and a song filled the cabin.

“He had the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. I was teary-eyed,” Valencia says. “I asked his family later, and it turned out he sang for an autistic foundation. Famous people would make appearances, and that’s how he got to perform with all of them.”

Valencia thanked him for the song and pointed to a picture of him and Janet Jackson. “She’s beautiful.”

The man responded, “Yeah, but not as beautiful as you.”

“He touched my heart,” Valencia said. “It’s moments like that that really make this job great.”

If she couldn’t be a flight attendant anymore, she doesn’t know what she would do.

“I would feel like a bird with clipped wings,” Valencia says. “This job has given me such a personal satisfaction. It has taught me how to be patient, how to be open and how to enjoy life.”

CareerCast blames the decline in flight attendants on airline mergers and fewer flights. However, Anthony DeMaio, with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, believes the industry has stabilized.

“After years of operating on the margins, airlines in the United States are turning profits, reinvesting in their product and re-establishing themselves in the international aviation industry,” DeMaio says. “Airlines are hiring flight attendants again. … It’s an exciting time to be in the industry and working as a flight attendant in particular.”

Postal carriers

Jonathan O’Hara, a mailman for the U.S. Postal Service, zips down a residential street in North Dallas. At each home, he quickly sifts through his stack of envelopes and drops several in the mailbox.

O’Hara has the routine down. He wears a rubber thimble to flip through the mail. He carries spray to fend off vicious dogs. He drinks plenty of water to beat the heat.

After 18 years as a letter carrier, he remains passionate about his job. “I enjoy connecting with my people,” he says.

The number of letter carriers has dropped across the country from a high in 1989 of 240,000 to around 190,000 in recent years, says Sauber, with the letter carriers association. “The Internet is a double-edged sword for us,” he says.

The increasing use of electronic communication has contributed to the drop, though online shopping is creating a demand. The number of carriers has gone up to about 200,000 this year, Sauber says.

In less than 30 minutes, O’Hara makes his way through the dozens of homes on the long block and back to his truck to pick up more mail. His daily route takes about seven hours.

The residents are like an extended family, he says.

He recalls the time he brought a gift on Christmas Eve to a child who had been eagerly waiting for days. Other times, he’s had families waiting to see if they would be evicted, and a letter he delivered changed everything.

“This route enables me to keep life in perspective,” he says. “I can see how blessed I am.