Who’s Working on Labor Day? America’s Fastest-Growing Jobs

BY Paul Solman  September 2, 2013 at 4:31 PM EDT

By Simone Pathe

Charlotte Labor Day Parade; photo by Jared Soares for the PBS NewsHour A majority of Americans still supports labor unions, but a majority also believes they’re likely to weaken. Photo of Charlotte Labor Day parade courtesy of Jared Soares for the PBS NewsHour.

On this Labor Day, when fewer than one in five households can boast a labor union member, how do Americans feel about unions? What does the labor landscape look like? And what’s the labor market likely to look like, going forward?

In a Gallup poll released this weekend, a majority of Americans approve of labor unions, up slightly over the past few years. But perhaps more significantly, more than half also believe that labor unions are likely to grow weaker in the future.

American approval of labor unions, as measured by Gallup, is up this year from 2012 but still well below the historical average.

American labor union approval peaked at 72 percent during the Great Depression in 1936 — the first year Gallup started tracking the issue. But today’s approval rating, while up from its lowest point in 2009, still sits well below the historical average approval rating.

The dire future many Americans predict for unions, Gallup speculates, could have something to do with Michigan’s and Indiana’s recent passage of right to work legislation, which makes it more difficult for unions to organize in those states. But of course, the long-term trend has been one of constant decline for organized labor.

True, the the labor union participation rate among American households (19 percent) has held relatively steady, Gallup reports, since 2003 when it was 16 percent. But the share of the American workforce in labor unions has decreased markedly in the decades since the union boom that helped shape the Labor Day holiday that many more than just union workers celebrate today.

The Gallup results make clear that labor unions are still a passionately partisan issue, with only 34 percent of Republicans but 75 percent of Democrats approving of them.

In 2009, after President Obama had taken office, 42 percent of Americans wanted unions to exert less influence, up from 32 percent just one year before. Four years later, the number of those opposed to union power has dropped to 38 percent.

When Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez spoke with our Ray Suarez recently, he sounded upbeat, though that may be as much a function of his position as his convictions.

“What heartens me as much as anything,” he told Ray, “is I think there’s an acute recognition in the labor movement and among responsible employers that we can’t fight yesterday’s battles anymore. If we’re going to bring jobs back, if we’re going to build a robust economy, we’ve got to recognize that we’re all in this together.”

The NewsHour’s full interview with Perez is slated to air Tuesday.

If Perez’s view of the future is necessarily cloudy, his Bureau of Labor Statistics does have a few forecasts to make. One concerns the nature of jobs in the years ahead.

We talk a lot on this page about the accuracy of the unemployment numbers from the BLS and spend a lot of time calculating the “U-7,” our own more inclusive metric of unemployment, which will appear again here Friday. But it’s not often that we examine in any detail which industries’ changes are helping shape the monthly number of jobs added.

So on Labor Day, we thought we’d reprint, from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, the 20 fastest-growing professions in America. These are the occupations with the highest percentage growth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 20 professions experiencing the greatest percentage change in employment. Click on the image to go to the original.

The occupational similarity of the two fastest-growing fields (personal care help and home health care aide) — two professions whose workers can’t simply take off on holidays, perhaps not even Labor Day — is striking but demographically unsurprising. As we’ve chonicled in our New Adventures for Older Workers project, Americans are working and living longer, and with that the country is changing.

The website 24/7 Wall Street generated a similar list of “The 10 Fastest-Growing Jobs in America” further analyzing BLS employment data. The site noted the same trend:

Many occupations with significant job growth in the past few years owe at least part of that growth to changing demographics. As the baby boom ages, many more people need help planning for retirement. This has driven growth of personal financial advisers’ jobs. Similarly, the need for personal care aides has grown for the obvious reason that more and more of us require hands-on help in our daily lives.

The aging US population also has driven job growth in many occupations not directly related to retirement planning and care. According to BLS Chief Regional Economist Martin Kohli, “The aging of the population is one of the factors that is driving the demand for massage therapists.” An aging population “is also a factor in the demand for coaches,” Kohli said. Many coaches work as instructors for leisure sports that retirees enjoy.

This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown — NewsHour’s blog of news and insight.