The recession's over, and the recovery's on—except in a handful of beleaguered industries that may never climb out of the doldrums.
After many fits and starts, the economy is finally creating jobs again, with gains averaging 125,000 new jobs per month since late last year. That pace is likely to intensify throughout 2011, bringing relief to some of America's 14 million unemployed and improving the job security of many others. But the improvements will bypass workers in a variety of industries that are either shrinking for good or likely to be the very last to feel the uplift of a slow recovery.
To determine which industries will continue to shrink in 2011, I used data from research firm IBISWorld to measure projected job growth in 2011 for nearly 700 industries and sub-industries. Unlike government or industry data that measures employment levels in the past, IBISWorld uses revenue forecasts, productivity data, and the expertise of analysts to estimate job changes in the future. That kind of outlook helps job seekers target industries where there are likely to be jobs, while avoiding those where the pickings are slim.
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There's also a message for people who have a job in one of these troubled fields: It might be worth exploring another line of work. The risk of getting laid off is one obvious reason, but even if your job is safe, working in a shrinking industry usually means there's a glut of qualified workers, which drives down pay and limits opportunities for advancement. Here are the 10 industries likely to lose the most jobs in the coming year:
Religious organizations (loss of 29,000 jobs in 2011). People might be praying more, but they're giving less. That has hammered religious organizations and other nonprofits, which are heavily dependent upon private donations. Despite the recovery, wage hikes are expected to be minimal for the foreseeable future, and disposable income very tight. Plus, many consumers, after several years of privation, are inclined to treat themselves a bit more if there's anything left after paying the bills (and beg forgiveness when the day of reckoning comes).
Data processing and hosting services (loss of 20,000 jobs). Demand is strong for high-skilled IT workers, like systems engineers and custom-software experts. But lower-end work requiring basic skills is being shipped overseas, where it can be done cheaper with no effect on quality. Chances are it will stay there, as companies lock in cost-cutting that helped them stay solvent during the recession.
Apartment rental (loss of 19,000 jobs). The number of rental units peaked in 2005 and has declined every year since. A wave of mergers and consolidation is now underway among big real-estate companies, which is expected to push down employment until 2015 or so. And a pickup in construction of multi-unit buildings will probably lag the long-awaited recovery in single-family homebuilding.
U.S. Postal Service (loss of 13,000 jobs). E-mail and other kinds of digital delivery have ravaged revenues at the Postal Service, which is considering service cutbacks, post-office closures, and continued staff reductions. That's on top of 147,000 jobs that have been eliminated since the end of 2007.
Environmental cleanup and remediation (loss of 12,000 jobs). The BP oil spill last year was a disaster for the Gulf Coast, but it caused a welcome hiring boost in this field. If 2011 is a better year for man-made catastrophes, it will be a worse one for the specialists trained to clean them up.
Soft drink production (loss of 12,000 jobs). Beverages were big for a while, partly because of energy drinks and other trendy delights elbowing old-fashioned soda off the shelves. But the industry overbuilt and could be in pullback mode for several years. The market for carbonated drinks has also been shrinking because of health concerns, and calls for a "sugar tax" in some areas won't help.
Electrical contractors (loss of 10,000 jobs). Skilled electricians are starting to find fresh work in the residential market, but there are still nowhere near enough big commercial projects to employ all the people who flocked to this field during the real-estate boom. With a recovery in commercial construction still a long way off, the field needs to shrink further.
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Wired telecommunications (loss of 10,000 jobs). If you own a cell phone, you know that the landline phone sitting on your desk is becoming an antiquated throwback. Some homes don't even have landlines any more. Some phone providers offer Internet service, which has helped offset job cuts. But even the Internet is going mobile.
Agribusiness (loss of 9,700 jobs). Some small farming operations are enjoying a boomlet, thanks to rising prices for corn, wheat, barley, and other crops. But big agribusinesses like ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland have been consolidating properties and cutting costs—which includes employees—to protect profitability. Cutbacks in soybean farming and beef cattle production account for most of the job losses expected this year.
Newspapers (loss of 6,200 jobs). If you're reading this online, that helps explain what's happened to the newspaper industry since the Internet arrived. Dozens of papers have gone out of business and even big ones like the New York Times struggle to remain profitable. Even a robust recovery probably wouldn't change that, since many consumers like their news free on the Web, or on digital gizmos like the iPad.