Middle-Wage Jobs Forecast to Decline

Opportunities for high- and low-wage earners to increase

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer November 8, 2018

There is more bad news for middle-skilled workers struggling with displacement fears and stagnant pay: According to a new study, most of the jobs created over the next five years will be in low-wage or high-wage industries.

U.S. employers will add 8.3 million jobs by 2023, based on an analysis of government data by Emsi, a labor market insights provider in Moscow, Idaho. But only a quarter of those jobs will fall within the middle-wage category, defined by recruitment software firm CareerBuilder, which published the study, as paying $14.18 an hour to $23.59 an hour. Factored into the total job growth is an expected loss of 369,879 jobs over the same period of time, with middle-wage occupations accounting for just over half (58 percent) of the loss.

High-wage ($23.24 or more per hour) and low-wage ($14.17 or less per hour) occupations are each predicted to grow roughly 5.7 percent over the next five years, the study found, compared with a growth rate of 3.8 percent for middle-wage jobs. High-paying and low-wage jobs will each add about 3.1 million new positions, compared with 2.1 million new jobs for middle-wage workers.

Fastest Growing Jobs through 2023 Below are the top five high-, middle- and low-wage jobs, ranked by rate of growth over the next five years. 


​Registered nurses
​Software developers
​Post-secondary teachers
​Accountants and auditors
​Market research analysts and marketing specialists
​Customer service representatives
​Medical assistants
​Construction laborers
​Maintenance and repair workers
​Licensed practical and vocational nurses
​Home health aides
​Waiters and waitresses
​Retail salespeople
​Restaurant cooks
​Nursing assistants
Source: Emsi Occupation Data, 2018.

"It's a wake-up call," said Josh Wright, chief economist for recruitment software firm iCIMS in Holmdel, N.J. "At a broad level, [jobs in which you are] working with your hands will decline over the next several years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calls this type of work 'production,' which includes people who make things with their hands and people who work in manufacturing."

A total of 121 occupations will experience a decline in jobs by 2023, with 75 of those occupations counted as middle-wage. However, Wright said, nonrepeatable manual jobs that require a higher level of manual dexterity, such as plumbers and home health aides, will still be valuable. Occupations in science, technology, engineering and math will continue to be among the fastest growing.

"Technology innovation is moving at an unprecedented rate and is rapidly redefining the occupations and skills required in the job market," said Irina Novoselsky, CEO of CareerBuilder. "This is a particularly pressing issue for middle-wage workers, who are at greater risk for becoming displaced, and workers in general who want to move up into better-paying jobs. The top is growing, the bottom is growing, and really the middle is stuck in a dilemma where they will have to upskill, or they are going to be left behind."

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Technology Drives Upskilling Need

Novoselsky attributes much of the shifting dynamics in labor demand to the growth of technology work and the skills deficit that has arisen in its wake. "You're seeing it in two ways: both in new industries that are emerging, such as AI, robotics, cybersecurity, as you would expect, but also in traditional jobs like manufacturing and nursing, where technology skills are now required."

Employers will need to play a greater role in providing competency-based skills training to their workforce, she said. "At the same time, workers across all job levels will need to continually pursue opportunities to upskill in order to maneuver around accelerated shifts in labor demand. Workers hoping to capitalize on increasing demand for talent or to migrate to faster-growing industries should look for ways to add new, tech-focused skills and include any experience with technology on their resumes."

Wright added that in an environment of increasing automation, workers will "either be interacting directly with robots, algorithms and computers through technical skills, or will be complementing them and adding value to them via humanistic skills."

Everyone will need some of both, he said. "There are fewer and fewer people, if there are any left, who can avoid spending some of their work time pressing buttons and staring at screens. There are also fewer people who can avoid having some level of interaction with humans, even if it's not face to face. They have to report to humans, sell to humans, collaborate with humans."

Wright said that it will be increasingly important for workers to strengthen their labor market literacy and figure out the right portfolio of skills and investments needed to be successful.

"We don't live in a world of package deals anymore," he said. "We need to think more about steering our careers, and just like you manage a 401(k), you'll have to learn how to manage your own human capital and the skills you develop."


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