Not Jobs

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Not Job Rank 1: Semiconductor Factory Worker

Total Employment Estimate: 29,703
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $33,056
Job Decline since 2006: 28.5%
Wage Growth since 2006: 0.6%

Analysis: High tech is far from immune from the job downturn. Three factors have conspired against the semiconductor field. First, sales have been off by 20 to 25 percent over the past six months. Second, companies are increasingly outsourcing the production of semiconductors to Asia (the world’s two largest foundries are now in Taiwan). Additionally, production has become more efficient: Bigger wafers are being produced (the wafers are used to make semiconductors), requiring a smaller number of workers.

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Not Job Rank 2: Industrial Pump Operator

Total Employment Estimate: 7,746
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $38,063
Job Decline since 2006: 22.8%
Wage Decline since 2006: 4.4%

Analysis: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seasonal nature of this kind of work may put a further damper on this job, which is focused on transferring gas and oil from one place to another. The operator position requires little training or experience and has lost jobs over the last few years, while employers and bosses in the energy industry have seen their stock rise.

Petr David Josek / AP Photo

Not Job Rank 3: Transportation Electronics Repairperson

Total Employment Estimate: 14,826
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $43,999
Job Decline since 2006: 27.6%
Wage Growth since 2006: 2.1%

Analysis: Usually certification of some kind is required for this job, repairing communication equipment on trains, boats, and other kinds of vehicles. Better production standards may have decreased the need for repairs, limiting the number of repair people needed to service electronics on modes of transportation.

Imaginechina / AP Photo

Not Job Rank 4: Textile Machine Operator

Total Employment Estimate: 75,580
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $23,970
Job Decline since 2006: 26.7%
Wage Growth since 2006: 3.0%

Analysis: Globalization has decimated the American textiles industry, as the same fabrics and materials can be produced in China or Mexico at lower cost. Of course, one industry’s trouble is another’s savior: The declining American dollar has offered hope to some sectors of the textile industry, making machine manufacturing more expensive elsewhere and perhaps harkening to the sound of textile machines starting up all over the country in the future. The owner of Eastman Machine, based in Buffalo, N.Y. told The New York Times last month that the dollar’s drop may allow him to rehire workers.

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Not Job Rank 5: Engine and Machine Builder

Total Employment Estimate: 36,335
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $32,872
Job Decline since 2006: 19.5%
Wage Decline since 2006: 1.1%

Analysis: These men and women build and maintain the machines that run American manufacturing. Of course, when manufacturing goes down, as we’ve seen in hard-hit places like Detroit and throughout the Rust Belt, those who service manufacturers have trouble. Since 1987, manufacturing’s share of the GDP has shrunk 30 percent. Despite stimulus plans, the government hasn’t done a great deal to help, according to The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson. “It's not just that the United States uniquely lacks an industrial policy,” Meyerson wrote this summer. “It's that the United States uniquely has an anti-industrial policy.”

Jonathan Hayward / AP Photo / The Canadian Press

Not Job Rank 6: Fine Artist

Total Employment Estimate: 9,211
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $41,312
Job Decline since 2006: 18.2%
Wage Decline since 2006: 1.6%

Analysis: Though art has long been seen as an investment and a hedge against inflation, very few make such an investment during a recession. Fewer buyers means lower prices. And that’s for the established artists. With galleries commonly closing and one-third of the nation’s biggest museum directors experiencing pay cuts, according to The Art Newspaper, it’s not surprising that young artists, like 25-year-old illustrator Owen Weber, are having difficulty getting their pencils and paintbrushes in the door. “A lot of the publishers I usually send my mailers to have gone out of business, making jobs less likely,” says Weber, who lives in Queens, N.Y. He maintains a separate job to support himself.

Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

Not Job Rank 7: Telephone Operator

Total Employment Estimate: 22,207
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $32,220
Job Decline since 2006: 15.7%
Wage Decline since 2006: 5.6%

Analysis: Voicemail and other automation killed Ernestine the switchboard operator. “The operator job in particular, all of that used to be done by people and it isn’t anymore,” says Candice Johnson, spokesperson for the Communication Workers of America. The only thing preventing the complete devastation of this job category is the inclusion of emergency operations and credit-card call centers, but the latter are being increasingly outsourced.

John Giles / PA Wire / AP Photo

Not Job Rank 8: Rail Car Repairer

Total Employment Estimate: 19,426
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $44,227
Job Decline since 2006: 18.4%
Wage Growth since 2006: 2.1%

Analysis: Warren Buffett clearly feels bullish about railroads, following his acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe this week. Those keeping the railcars running, however, may feel differently. Though Buffett told USA Today that “the rail business is actually in tune with the future,” Randy Quaife, vice president of marketing and sales at DTE Rail Services in Nebraska, says the country’s economic downtown has hit the railway repair industry particularly hard. “The number of cars sitting idle, I’ve never seen anything like it in my career,” says Quaife, a 29-year veteran. “It’s mind-boggling. If most cars aren’t operating, they don’t need people to fix them either.”

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Not Job Rank 9: Millwright

Total Employment Estimate: 41,570
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $48,332
Job Decline since 2006: 22.0%
Wage Growth since 2006: 5.9%

Analysis: Gerald Dickey, spokesperson for the United Steelworkers of America and a former millwright in a steel plant, puts it plainly and succinctly: “Manufacturing is pretty much flat on its ass.” Millwrights build and maintain heavy production equipment, so their fate is tied with the fate of the rest of the production economy. With two of the big three U.S. auto makers filing for bankruptcy in 2008, the production industry seems, well, flat on its ass. Assuming at least a modicum of factories can stay open, there may be a silver lining to the grim news for millwrights. “When the economy gets back on track—because few companies train people for these positions anymore—as the workforce gets older and guys retire,” says Dickey, “that will create opportunities in existing facilities.”

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Not Job Rank 10: Metal and Plastics Machine Operator

Total Employment Estimate: 188,471
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $32,625
Job Decline since 2006: 21.1%
Wage Growth since 2006: 5.8%

Analysis: Another recession casualty. These workers set and maintain the machines that produce nearly anything found in an American home or garage: Toaster levers, refrigerator door handles, metal screws, plastic Ernie and Bert dolls—you name it and a metal and plastic machine operator has had a hand in making it. Lower consumer goods sales, and more overseas production, have proven a double whammy.

For the ranking of America’s 10 Best Jobs, based on wage and employment growth, click here.