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How the American workforce has changed since the Great Recession

  • How the American workforce has changed since the Great Recession

    The last 10 years have been among the most consequential in U.S. history in terms of tectonic shifts that transformed the American workforce. A decade ago, the country and the world were in the throes of an economic calamity the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Great Depression. The Great Recession of 2008 infiltrated virtually every sector and, at least indirectly, every company and worker. The arrival of social media and the smartphone were impacting daily life across every aspect of the American experience, including the workplace. The internet was changing the way human beings bought and sold things and how money changed hands, all of which caused major changes in commerce and the employee/employer relationship.

    To dig deeper into how the workforce has changed in the last decade, Stacker explored a variety of sources and compiled 25 trends, technologies, demographic shifts, and other events that forever changed how Americans earn a living.

    Some shifts were technological. Freelance-for-hire websites and services like Uber and Lyft launched an entirely new labor structure known informally as the “gig economy.” This evolution allowed some people to supplement their existing incomes with independent contract work; others used it as an opportunity to break the chains of the nine-to-five framework that dominated American labor for generations.

    Broadband internet made working from home a reality, allowing people to earn a living from anywhere without being limited by geographic proximity to an employer. At the same time, legions of aging baby boomers contributed to a graying workplace by remaining in the workforce well beyond the traditional age of retirement. Keep reading to take a closer look at how the U.S. workforce has changed since the Great Recession.

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  • Telecommuting takes off

    One of the biggest changes in the workforce is that more and more members of it don’t show up in person to work. The number of people who work from home at least part of the time rose by 115% in the decade between 2005 and 2015, according to data from Manila Recruitment. By 2017, 40% more U.S. employers offered telecommuting options than they did in 2010.

  • The gig economy blossoms

    In the last 10 years, huge chunks of the American workforce have traded traditional careers for collections of gigs—or at least picked up side hustles to supplement their incomes. Thanks to the rise of rideshare services and freelance-specific sites like Fiverr, over 57 million people work as independent contractors, per the Gig Economy and Alternative Arrangements study. That’s more than one in three workers.

  • The workforce is aging

    The aging of the massive baby-boomer population has been contributing to a graying workforce since the turn of the 21st century, with the 2010s seeing a dramatic spike in older workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), just 13.1% of the workforce in 2000 was 55 and older; by 2024, that percentage is expected to include one worker in four. This dynamic has forced companies to adjust their strategies and benefits packages to ease their aging workforces into retirement.

  • More older workers ‘reverse retired’

    The last decade saw a significant rise in so-called "reverse retirements." About one-in-three retirees now return to the workforce at some point, whether out of necessity or choice, according to a report from the Federal Reserve.

  • The robots came…and keep coming

    Although robots have been working alongside—or in place of—human workers for decades, the last 10 years have witnessed an astonishing rise in workplace automation. “Robots are coming for our jobs” hysteria may not be hysteria at all. According to a report from the Brookings Institution, a full 25% of jobs are now at risk of being replaced by automation, with production, food service, and transportation facing the greatest estimated risk from the robot revolution.

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  • Manufacturing makes a comeback

    The decline of American industry is a sad and well-documented chapter in the country’s modern history—one need look no further than Detroit or Flint, Mich., or any other major Rust Belt city to see the results. The last decade, however, has witnessed a promising rise in the reshoring of American manufacturing jobs. Factories added 176,000 workers in 2017, according to Barron’s, and 264,000 in 2018—the latter was the best year since 1997.

  • More people take second jobs

    Between 1995 and 2010, the American workforce witnessed a steep drop-off in the number of people who work a full-time job and a second part-time job—from nearly 3.5% to less than 2.5% during that time period. During the 2010s, however, that trend steadily reversed, and today the number of people with two jobs is back over 2.5%.

  • Union membership declines

    Collective bargaining and unions built the American middle class, and the hard-fought gains of early organizers paid dividends in the form of lasting gains. Union workers earn better salaries and enjoy better conditions than their counterparts doing the same work in a non-union environment. Those gains, however, are at risk of drying up as income inequality expands. In the 1940s and ’50s, about 30% of American workers were unionized, but that percentage has been in steady decline, including through the 2010s, and today, just 11% or 12% of workers are union members.

  • Jobs keep pouring overseas

    During the 2010s, major corporations of all stripes promised to stop outsourcing jobs wherever they could, and lawmakers promised to hold them to that pledge. Much of that talk, however, turned out to be exactly that—talk. Outsourcing grew by about 1.2% to 14.3 million workers over the last decade, with most of the lost jobs existing in call centers, human resources, and manufacturing occupations.

  • Retail employment plummets

    The so-called "Retailpocalypse," spawned mostly by the rise of e-commerce, has crushed the traditional retail sector and sent once-mighty chains like Toys “R” Us and Sears into bankruptcy. That, coupled with the fact that retail is especially prone to automation, has left retail workers out in the cold in an otherwise booming economy. According to Labor Department data, via CNBC, retail has lost a stunning 140,000 jobs since 2017 alone.

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