After several months of stubbornly high unemployment and European economic turmoil, Americans haven't exactly warmed to the idea that better days are ahead. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 58% of Americans believe overall economic conditions – which include the unemployment situation – are getting worse.
But the recent sour economic mood among Americans hasn't led the Bureau of Labor Statistics to bet against American job growth (at least in the long run).
Which US Jobs Have the Strongest Economies?
Thanks to an aging and growing overall population, the bulk of new job openings are projected to be in healthcare and the social-assistance industry, where the number of job openings are expected to grow by 33%. That’s more than twice the average growth rate (14%) for all other occupations that the Bureau tracks.
Other industries that are expected to add millions of new jobs from 2010 to 2020 include:
Professional, technical and scientific services (up 29%, adding 2.1 million new jobs)
Educational services (up 14%, adding 1.8 million new jobs)
Construction (up 33%, adding 1.8 million new jobs)
Retail trade (up 12%, adding 1.8 million new jobs).
Which Jobs Pay the Most?
While sheer industry job growth is nice, it's the money that does most of the talking. So which professions offer the most job openings and the most attractive middle-class pay stubs?
For answers, we looked through the bureau's latest list of 20 jobs that are expected to have the greatest number of new job openings between 2010 and 2020. (Note: The bureau openings figure includes actual job additions, as well as vacancies from employees who have retired or changed careers).
While many professions made a comeback, this year’s list of middle-class jobs looks a bit different than the list we featured in 10 Middle-Class Jobs That Are Actually Growing, based on the bureau's projections.
The Strongest Careers in the US Today
Here are seven jobs that boast median salaries of more than $30,000 and have excellent growth:
7. Sales Representatives (Wholesale and Manufacturing)
Unlike traditional retail sales representatives who sell products straight to consumers, sales representatives work under wholesalers and manufacturers to sell products to other businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. For example, they might sell sound or lighting equipment to theaters or surveillance cameras to businesses that could use more security.
Third-party, independent sales agencies are expected to add the most new jobs in this field over the next decade, especially as manufacturers and wholesalers look to cut internal employee costs and have sales be handled by these specialized contractors.
Median Salary: $52,440
Minimum Training/Education: Moderate-term on-the-job training, high school diploma
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 223,400
6. Elementary School Teachers
Despite tight local and city budgets, overall enrollment in elementary schools is set to grow over the decade. On average, new elementary school teaching jobs should increase at a rate of 17%.
The fastest job growth in the field will be in the Southern and Western regions of the country, where student enrollment has been growing at a healthy clip. But don't expect equal employment opportunities in every part of the country. Student enrollment in the Midwest is expected to be merely "holding steady," and enrollment in the Northeast is expected to have declines.
The bureau also expects that many more teaching opportunities will exist in urban and rural areas (especially in poorer districts with higher faculty turnover) than in suburban areas.
Median Salary: $51,660
Minimum Training/Education: Internship/residency, bachelor's degree, and teacher's certification
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 248,800
5. Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
Every business needs someone to keep track of the income, cut payroll checks, pay the bills and keep track of the finances. The more businesses that pop up, the more bookkeepers, accountants, and auditing clerks will be needed to keep the books. And in a post-financial crisis world (where stricter regulations have been placed on financial reporting), businesses will need more accounting services to ensure accurate corporate books.
Median Salary: $34,030
Minimum Training/Education: Moderate-term on-the-job training, high school diploma (though associate or bachelor's degrees with coursework in accounting is preferred)
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 259,000
4. Postsecondary Teachers
As college education becomes a "must" for most high school grads – and a valuable retraining tool for unemployed workers seeking a career change – expect college enrollment and the demand for professors to grow at a healthy clip.
Tenured positions will be harder to land than adjunct and part-time positions. Nursing and engineering professors will see more opportunities than humanities professors. But overall, as current professors begin to retire and as college enrollment swells, openings in this profession should grow by 17% over the decade (which is slightly faster than other occupations tracked).
Median Salary: $62,050
Minimum Training/Education: Doctoral or professional degree
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 305,700
3. Truck Drivers (Heavy and Tractor-Trailer)
What do online retailers, local shops, and big-box stores have in common? They need products regularly shipped to them, and they need to replenish inventories quickly. This means that truck drivers will be heavily relied upon, especially with long-term economic growth.
In an economy where there never seems to be enough jobs to go around, it may be surprising to hear that there's actually a shortage of qualified truck drivers.
Those brave enough to drive big-rig trucks (and spend days or weeks apart from their families) will have great job prospects and healthy paychecks. In fact, 10% of drivers made more than $57,480 in 2010, with relatively little education or training required.
Median Salary: $37,770
Minimum Training/Education: High school diploma and a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). Two years of related work experience preferred.
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 330,100
2. Customer Service Representatives
Customer service isn’t for everyone, but those with strong listening skills, problem-solving skills, patience, and a genuine fondness for people will find plenty of employment opportunities in a customer service role in almost any economy.
Depending on the industry, many customer service jobs can offer a decent paycheck and flexible hours. So which industries pay the most? While customer service reps in retail had a modest median wage of $23,899 annually, those in the credit-intermediation and insurance industries had median wages of $30,222 and $34,132 annually, respectively.
While the overall number of customer service rep jobs are expected to grow slightly faster than other occupations, opportunities in US telephone call centers should boom by comparison. Despite the threat of outsourcing, customer preferences have convinced many companies to keep call centers in the US. No wonder the bureau projected a blazing 46% growth in the number of telephone call-center customer service rep jobs between 2010 and 2020.
Median Salary: $30,460
Minimum Training/Education: Short-term on-the-job training, high school diploma or equivalent
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 338,400
1. Registered Nurses
This fastest-growing job in America is expected to grow by 27% (nearly twice as fast as the average of all other occupations) over the decade. Advancements in medical technology have made it possible to treat more previously untreatable diseases, creating a greater demand for nurses. In addition, an increased emphasis on preventive care practices (and an aging baby boomer population with increased medical needs) means greater future demand for nurses.
RN job openings are expected to grow even faster in outpatient care centers that offer chemotherapy, rehabilitation, surgery and other medical treatments. Hospitals (which usually have higher turnover among RNs because of the demanding work hours) are expected to have more openings than physicians' offices. There should be exceptional job opportunities for RNs who can treat patients with chronic medical conditions in long-term care facilities or in a patient's home.
With a whopping 711,000 projected new job openings expected by 2020 and a median salary of $64,690, this is a field that will likely take good care of you and your finances.
Median Salary: $64,690
Minimum Training/Education: Associate degree in nursing, a bachelor's degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 711,900
Discover More About the Best Middle-Class Careers in the US
If you would like to see job growth projections in your area (for these occupations or any others), the Bureau of Labor Statistics allows you to search by state here.
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