American Industries with Surprisingly Poor Outlooks

Posted: October 9, 2012 by Alison in Food For Thought
Tags: , , , , , , ,


We’ve all heard how badly newspapers and the Postal Service are hurting. Even if we didn’t hear about it in the news all the time, we would have to assume they can’t be doing too great. After all, when was the last time you licked an envelope or got black ink on your fingers? On the other hand, unless we intentionally seek out info on it, the suffering of some other industries may escape us. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has made its predictions of which industries will decline the most by 2020 in both output and employment. We broke down 10 of the ones that surprised us.

  1. Defense:

    One would think even hawks could agree that military spending that accounts for 58% of spending in the entire world is, dare we say, enough already. With the passage of 2011′s Budget Control Act, Congress finally acknowledged that the military could afford to make some sacrifices to help meet a $1.2 trillion goal of federal spending cuts over the next 10 years. The news is not welcome for the civilian defense industry (what the BLS calls “general federal defense government compensation”), which is predicted to lose $16.5 billion in output and just shy of 50,000 jobs by 2020.

  2. Apparel knitting mills:

    This summer’s public furor over the discovery that Ralph Lauren had the Team USA Olympic uniforms made in China highlighted just how shocked people still get when they hear their goods were not American-made. Nearly every apparel manufacturing operation ditched the States decades ago. Nevertheless, the ones that are still here have been badly bruised by increased import competition and a lower American family clothing budget. By 2020, the industry is projected to lose more than 91,000 jobs, a whopping 58% drop. Output is also expected to plummet $7.1 billion over that time, making it the fastest-declining industry in America by output volume.

  3. Dry cleaning:

    You probably don’t realize it, but your local dry cleaner is probably struggling. All those laid-off people of recent years meant fewer people wearing work clothes, which meant decreased need for starched shirts and bleached blouses. Just one extra wear per garment per person translates into a dry cleaner’s losing substantial revenue. And even before the recession, the market was overcrowded with dry cleaners and laundromats. As one expert puts it, things haven’t been this bad since “the polyester surge of the early ’70s.” Throw on top of everything the fact that hanger prices (of all things) are on the climb, and it’s easy to see why the BLS has the industry slashing 36,400 jobs by the end of the decade at a rate of 1.3% per year.

  4. Tobacco manufacturing:

    The surprising thing about the tobacco industry may be that it’s not doing nearly as bad as you might think, what with smoking being lethal and all. Forty-five million Americans still smoke, and no less than 1 billion people around the world still enjoy a good cigarette. The recession actually helped cigarette sales at home and consumption of tobacco products in second- and third-world countries has increased. But with an ease in the recession, tax increases, a hike in the price of the tobacco leaf, tough competition abroad from foreign competitors, and potential exclusion from a multinational trade deal, the BLS sees American tobacco firms losing $2.2 billion in the next eight years.

  5. Crop production:

    Surely demand for food is in no danger of dropping, right? We won’t all be anorexic models in the future, will we? By one indicator, the crop production industry is increasing. Output is expected to shoot up $20.1 billion by 2020, a healthy 1.5% increase per year. Prices will rise due to an increase in demand from both an increased population and need for biofuel materials in the U.S., E.U., and Brazil. But wage and salary employment for agricultural workers will experience one of the biggest drops of any American industry. More than 40,000 workers will be out of a job within the next eight years, a decline of 6.4%.

  6. Fiber, yarn, and thread mills:

    Like its sister industry apparel knitting mills, fiber, yarn, and thread mills have had a tough time recently, and though the outlook is a little brighter today, the future is bleak. Although cotton prices might have reasonably risen as a result of severe droughts in the U.S., mills have benefited in recent months from a drop in prices due to falling demand from major buyer China. But demand has not been high enough for yarn producers to raise prices or boost production, and the BLS estimates output will be down across the industry by $4.2 billion by 2020, with nearly 32,000 more jobs lost.

  7. Electric power:

    Like the crop production industry, the output and employment of this utilities sector are moving in opposite directions. Although some had predicted new eco-friendly rules for power plants would create as many as 250,000 new jobs, many of them (like painters and plumbers) would only be short-term. Regardless, the technology has advanced so far that electric plants are more efficient and require fewer workers to operate them. The industry will be hit harder than any other utility segment in terms of employment, losing another 35,500 jobs by 2020 on top of the 37,500 lost between 2000 and 2010. But there’s no need to worry about rolling blackouts; real output is projected to rise 2.4% to almost $300 billion in 2020.

  8. Leather:

    Second only to apparel knitting mills in how fast both its output and employment are declining, the leather and hide tanning and finishing industry has a tough road to hoe this decade. The BLS blames the fall-off on competition from imports and the fact that production is very labor-intensive. It neglects to mention that real leather goods are universally seen as first-class and are priced accordingly, putting them out of reach for Americans who are watching their spending when it comes to leather domains like purses, jackets, and car seats. Until earnings come back up, cheaper alternatives like vinyl and plastic will continue to win out. The BLS believes a 7.6% job loss rate each year is not at all unrealistic, nor is a $1.3 billion drop in output by 2020.

  9. Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing:

    Judging only by output growth, the forecast for this industry is anything but poor. In fact, it is projected to be the number one fastest-growing industry in the entire economy, with output growing by leaps and bounds from $466 billion today to $896 billion in 2020 for an annual increase of 6.8%, an incredible rate. But employment numbers have been falling since the Oughts, with a 4.9% decrease in jobs over the decade, and that trend promises to continue in this decade due to ever-increasing efficiency and expertise in production. The BLS has the computer and computer peripheral industry saying goodbye to 44,100 jobs at a rate of -3.1% a year. Only the Postal Service and apparel knitting mills will have worse rates.

  10. Fishing, hunting, and trapping:

    Time will tell whether the BLS is right about this one. Certainly interest in outdoor activities like hunting and fishing has been sliding for 20 years, and very public campaigns against killing animals for fur have put demand for the material in the basement. But the recession seems to have renewed focus on outdoor activities for both recreation and sources of food — 11% more Americans fished in 2011 than 2006, and nearly as many more (9%) hunted. Nevertheless, this new-found appreciation for Mother Nature may wear off as the economy comes back, justifying the BLS’ forecast of $200 million in lost revenue and 84,100 jobs lost by self-employed and unpaid family workers in the industry.

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