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Not all dead ends lead to unemployment
Scripps Howard News Service


September 21, 2005

WASHINGTON - I am a sucker for lists - top 10 reasons, 10 best buys. And so, trolling the Internet, I came across a list of 10 dead-end jobs and had to check to see if I was holding one.

It turns out that while you may or may not be at a dead end, it's your field of employment that's dying or dead. Farmers and ranchers are taking the worst hit, according to, a field that will lose 250,000 jobs by 2012. This is hardly a news flash. Farming and ranching have been going off a cliff for the last century. Besides, the work is really hard. No wonder people are getting out. But it does make you wonder why agricultural subsidies keep rising.

Most of the other endangered jobs are ones that are being overtaken by technology: word processing, data entry, computer operators - remember when those jobs sounded so cutting-edge? - travel agents, mail sorting and, sadly, telephone operators.

CareerBuilder reporter Kate Lorenz writes, "Developments in communications technologies - particularly voice recognition systems that are accessible and easy to use - will continue to have a significant impact on the demand for switchboard operators."

Maybe so, Kate, but forget that "accessible and easy-to-use" part. Like automated answering and voice mail and that insincere and patently false "your message is important to us," this is all part of a continuing plot to keep the customer from ever speaking directly with an intelligent life form.

Every resume should contain a few dead-end jobs. I suspect that if more did there wouldn't be so much casual talk in the rarefied air of think tanks about the benefits of outsourcing. There are still, for example, live telephone operators you can talk to- they just happen to work in Bangalore.

Dead-end jobs or not, we still need people to fill them, and that points to another development building to critical mass outside the halogen spotlight of public attention: The Wall Street Journal says - and it certainly should know - 40 percent of the American work force will reach retirement age by the end of this decade, just five years off. That raises the prospect of two Americans out of five standing around watching the other three work.

Instead of pushing older workers out the door, employers will be blocking them yelling, "Don't go! We take back everything we said about you being both overpaid and over the hill."

The 76 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 will start turning 60 next year. If they retire - really retire, as in not getting another paid job - the economy will be in trouble; there won't be enough people to the do the work, dead-end or otherwise.

Workers over 55 are the fastest-growing percentage of the work force. Be nice to them. In the ordinary course of events, an aging cohort of workers would be replaced by a younger cohort coming along behind, but, the Journal reports, the number of workers between 34 and 44 actually shrank by 7 percent. Sure, older workers may be replaced by younger workers, but that younger worker could be 57 or 58.

For the baby boomers, the end is in sight and it's not a dead one. Now, would one of them please answer the phone?


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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