The two training sessions going on a few cobblestoned blocks apart in the Boston area highlight an unusual dimension of tomorrow's job market: Demand for workers should be strong on both ends of the skill spectrum. It's those in the middle who may want to look at their résumés.
While the students at Northeastern will take four to five years to complete their nurses' training, the home health aide students will complete their training in four weeks. The RNs can expect much better pay: Their median salary was $64,690 in 2010. Home health aides made only $20,560, which is below poverty level for a household of four.
Yet people pursuing both career paths will likely find jobs, which is indicative of a far broader trend in America. While employment growth is sluggish right now – the unemployment rate ticked up in January to 7.9 percent, according to the BLS, with the economy creating only 157,000 net new jobs – it's expected to pick up later this decade. Most of that growth will occur at the top and the bottom of the earnings scale. Among the top 20 fastest-growing professions from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS, will be high-skill jobs like biomedical engineers, college professors, and veterinarians (see chart, page 30). But the list will also include many low-skill occupations, like helpers for carpenters, plumbers, and brick masons; glaziers; and cashiers.
Part of this is a fluke of the business cycle. Because of the Great Recession, which walloped the construction industry, jobs in various building trades will have to surge just to get back to normal levels of employment. But there's more involved in the process than that.
The main reason the low and high ends of the job market are growing is that the middle is getting squeezed. Different explanations are put forward for this: government policy, the decline of unions, offshoring jobs. But the prevailing theory is that middle-skill positions are disappearing because of technology.