Jobs and the Future of Work

This is what 150 years of US employment looks like

Louisville Assembly Plant employees work to assemble the new 2013 Ford Escape on the production line at the company's newly transformed Louisville Assembly Plant in Louisville, Kentucky, June 13, 2012. Ford added 1800 jobs at the Louisville Assembly Plant and is adding 1300 additional workers to the third shift this fall, bringing total hourly employment at the plant to 4200.    REUTERS/John Sommers II      (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS TRANSPORT) - GM2E86E0F4O01

Manufacturing has always played a large part in the American economy. Image: REUTERS/John Sommers

Jeff Desjardins
Founder and editor, Visual Capitalist
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Where will tomorrow’s jobs come from?

It’s a fair question, and it’s certainly one that is a hot topic of debate among experts trying to figure out the ultimate impact of AI and automation on the global economy.

While no one knows the outcome for sure, what is clear is how the job distribution has changed over time: as jobs in agriculture and manufacturing have disappeared, new jobs have materialized in other sectors.

Image: Visual Capitalist

U.S. employment by sector

Today’s chart uses data from the McKinsey Global Institute that shows U.S. employment by sector between the years of 1850 and 2015.

Here is a recap of the data, by sector:

The agricultural sector was king in 1850, providing a whopping 60% of all U.S. employment.

Much later on, in the mid-20th century, factories took the country by storm. By the year 1960, the high-flying manufacturing sector eventually peaked at a share of 26% of all American jobs.

Of course, for any prospective job seeker in the modern era, it’s rare to see jobs advertised in either of these sectors. That’s because today, they add up to fewer than 13% of the total jobs that exist in the country, and it’s likely these shares will continue to decline as time passes.

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An ever-changing landscape

While the eventual impact of AI and automation on the U.S. job picture remains unclear, this above data series does provide some comfort – after all, history doesn’t always repeat, but it often rhymes.

In the timeframe of 1850 to 2015, it’s clear that new technologies came in and disrupted the prevailing industries. Many jobs were lost in key sectors like manufacturing and farming, but they’ve been replaced (so far) with new jobs in other sectors.

With the effects of automation expected to be felt in OECD countries by the mid-2020s, it’s likely we won’t have to wait long to see how things shake out this time around.

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Related topics:
Jobs and the Future of WorkEducation and SkillsEconomic Growth
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