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Health Care Now Biggest Source of U.S. Jobs

Retail and manufacturing, the two industries that were once the top sources of U.S. employment, are now in second and third place, respectively. According to newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2017, health care took over first place, and today ranks as the biggest source of jobs.

Woman doctor holding a chart in a modern office

Health care employs 20.72 million people, while retail employs 16.72 million and manufacturing employs 15.408 million people.

Why the Shift Away

Retail has been impacted by the move from brick-and-mortar stores to online shopping. Customer preference for the convenience and selection online shopping offers has in 2017 led to additional store closings and layoffs by major retailers, including Sears/Kmart, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s.

Stores in malls in particular have faced difficulty. According to outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks layoffs, roughly 1,200 shopping malls exist in the United States today, which could decline to about 900 in the next decade. The firm notes that the number of U.S. malls grew more than twice as fast as the population between 1970 and 2015. Data also shows that the United States has 40 percent more shopping space per capita compared to Canada, and 10 times more than Germany.

New technologies have also begun to impact retail, and will likely continue to do so.

“Just as e-commerce technology over the past 20 years changed how consumers search, discover, and shop, new innovations may reinvent the physical store and expand the online experience of today. As Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods highlights, traditional retail is changing due to new technologies, such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Manufacturing has undergone significant changes in recent years as well.

Outsourcing, offshoring, and automation have all had an impact on U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Why the Move Toward

At the same time, an aging population is driving demand for health care and related services.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, residents age 65 and over grew from 35.0 million in 2000 to 49.2 million in 2016, accounting for 12.4 percent and 15.2 percent of the total population, respectively.

And America is poised to grow even grayer. The Census Bureau projects that the population of people age 65 and older will reach 98.2 million in 2060. People in this age group will comprise nearly one in four U.S. residents. Of this number, 19.7 million will be age 85 or older.

Where the Jobs Are

Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that eight of the 10 jobs most in-demand jobs are in health care. Obviously, this creates challenges for health care as an industry, especially since many jobs in the field are highly specialized and require a college education or professional training.

At the same time, disappearing jobs in retail and manufacturing, previously held by workers untrained for other employment opportunities, creates challenges for displaced workers—and society at large.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.