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How Work Has Changed in the Last 10 Years (and How You Can Keep Up)

By Wendy Connick - Dec 23, 2017 at 12:20PM

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The last decade has seen the workforce change in major ways.

The Great Recession had a tremendous impact on the U.S. economy, not to mention the average worker. During the 10 years since the recession began, technological and societal shifts have continued to change the way people do business both as consumers and as workers. Here's what a recent Pew Research Center study found about how work has changed in the last decade -- and how those changes are likely to affect your own job and finances.

The labor force has shrunk -- except for age 55-plus workers

As baby boomers continue to head into retirement, the overall labor force is shrinking significantly. Pew's study found that the percentage of Americans who are actively looking for work or employed has shrunk from 66% 10 years ago to 62.7% today.

However, the percentage of the labor force composed of workers aged 55 and up has increased over the same time period from 17.6% to 22.8%. This may well be a positive trend for senior workers, as employers may become more willing to hire older workers. That would make it easier for 55-and-older workers to delay retirement or continue to work part-time in retirement.

Paycheck handed from boss to employee

Image source: Getty Images.

Unemployment lasts longer

"Unemployment," by government standards, is when you're out of work, you've actively looked for work during the past four weeks, and you're currently available to start working. While the overall unemployment rate has dropped quite a bit since 2007, the average length of time that workers spend unemployed has gone up. In fact, the percentage of unemployed workers who have been out of work for a year or more has nearly doubled from 9.1% in December 2007 to 16.5% today. And the number of workers who have simply given up on finding a job -- though they aren't officially counted as "unemployed" -- has shot up from 363,000 to 524,000 over the past decade.

Even if you're safely employed today, it's important to take precautions against unemployment, given how long you may be out of work. Indeed, the average reported length of unemployment was 26 weeks as of October 2017, which is a long time to live without a paycheck. That's why it's so important to have an emergency savings account with enough money in it to pay for at least six months' worth of expenses. Such an account can be a lifesaver if your job suddenly disappears.

More service jobs, fewer product jobs

The trend toward service jobs and away from manufacturing, construction, and other goods-producing jobs has been building for a long time, but it accelerated after the housing bubble burst, causing many housing construction jobs to evaporate. Since December 2007, the number of product-related jobs has dropped by 1.8 million, while the number of service-related jobs has grown by 10.5 million. In particular, healthcare-related jobs are booming: The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics' list of fastest-growing occupations includes home health aides, personal-care aides, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.

If your training and experience are in one of those shrinking industries, then now is a good time to develop some skills on the service side. You can make this transition easier by picking a service job that's closely related to your existing job. For example, if you spent most of your working life in manufacturing, perhaps you could pivot into consulting with manufacturers to help them increase efficiency and reduce costs on the assembly line. That would give you a foot in the consulting door that you could potentially use to branch out into other fields and service roles.

There's really no such thing as total job security; even if you do your job perfectly and your bosses are thrilled with you, your employer could be on the verge of bankruptcy, or some technical innovation could make your job obsolete. That's why it's important to have a backup plan and continuously improve and broaden your skills, preferably in a related field. You should always have enough emergency savings to get you through a lengthy period of unemployment, and don't neglect to update your resume and maintain your professional network. These simple precautions can make any job-related problems much easier to survive.

While past performance is no guarantee of future results, the findings from this Pew Research survey paint a picture of some employment trends that are likely to continue for years. The more you prepare for these shifts in the labor market, the more successful your career is likely to be.

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