Why This Counts: What Does the Future Hold for the Workforce?

You or someone you know may be deciding on a career, whether just starting out in the workforce or looking to change jobs. If so, you may have questions about potential careers. BLS employment projections and our Occupational Outlook Handbook can help answer them.

“Our team highlights the Occupational Outlook Handbook in their workshops and in their individual coaching sessions with students as a key resource for them to explore, expand, and understand all of their options. Our team also uses the information to assess job trends so we can help students prepare for the job market of the future.” — George Washington University, Center for Career Services

Even if you aren’t looking for a career change, you may be interested in a broader picture of the future of the U.S. economy and workforce. You can find this information, and much more, from the Employment Projections program.

What’s a projection and how do you make one?

A projection is an estimate of future conditions or trends based on a study of past and present trends.

Every 2 years, the Employment Projections program publishes 10-year projections of national employment by industry and occupation based on analysis of historical and current economic data. The purpose is to offer some insight into questions about the future growth or decline of industries and occupations.

We use historical and current BLS data primarily from the Current Population Survey, the Current Employment Statistics survey, and the Occupational Employment Statistics survey. You can see an overview of our six-step projections process.

BLS is working toward releasing the projections each year, rather than every 2 years.

See our video on “Understanding BLS Employment Projections.”

What are some data highlights for the 2016–26 projections?

The most recent labor force projections tell us about the impact of the aging of the population.

  • As the large baby-boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) grows older, the overall labor force participation rate is projected to be lower than in previous decades. The labor force participation rate is the share of people working or looking for work. We project the rate to be 61.0 percent in 2026, compared with 62.8 percent in 2016 and 66.2 percent in 2006. This is because older people have lower labor force participation rates than younger age groups.
  • The 55-and-older age group is projected to make up nearly one-quarter of the labor force in 2026, up from 22.4 percent in 2016 and 16.8 percent in 2006.
  • The share held by the youngest age group—ages 16 to 24—is projected to continue to decline as they focus on their education.

Percent distribution of the labor force by age in 1996, 2006, 2016, and projected 2026

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We can view employment projections in terms of the change in the number of jobs and as a percent change. The projected percent change represents how fast an occupation or industry is projected to grow.

  • The chart below includes the top ten fastest-growing occupations from 2016 to 2026.
  • Five of the occupations are related to healthcare, which makes sense with a population that is growing older.
  • The top two fastest-growing occupations install, repair, and maintain solar panels and wind turbines. These two occupations are small in numbers but are both projected to double in size over the decade, reflecting the current interest in alternative forms of energy.
  • The remaining occupations fall into what is known as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Fastest-growing occupations, projected, 2016–26

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

What other information can you get from the Employment Projections program?

BLS also provides information on the education and training path for occupations. What education do people usually need to enter an occupation? Does the occupation typically need work experience in a related occupation? Is specific on-the-job training typically needed? BLS provides this information for every detailed occupation for which we publish projections. We describe the typical path to entry in the base year of the projections. This education and training information, with the occupational projections and wages, form the basis of the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

“It [the Occupational Outlook Handbook] is a great jumping off point. I use it to go more in depth with students. We look at what the career entails, and which fields really appeal to them.” — Gail Grand, College Counselor, Westlake Village, California

What is the Occupational Outlook Handbook?

The Occupational Outlook Handbook has been around for nearly 70 years, and it is a trusted (and free!) source of career information. It incorporates BLS data and lots of other information about careers, along with tools to find the information you need. Another publication, Career Outlook, is published throughout the year and provides practical information about careers for students, career counselors, jobseekers, and others planning careers.

“The Handbook has been an effective tool during our strategic planning process at the Foundation. We’ve used the data to design an investment strategy that will focus on linking opportunity youth with promising careers in the region. OOH enabled us to sync up resource allocation with program development.” — Kristopher Smith, Foundation for the Mid-South

Want to know about projections for your state or local area?

While BLS makes projections at the national level, each state makes projections for states and local areas. Find information on state projections at Projections Central.

Want more Employment Projections information?

Check out the latest news release. Head to the Frequently Asked Questions to learn more. Or contact the information folks by phone, (202) 691-5700, or email.

Changing jobs or starting a new career is a big decision. Use these gold-standard BLS data to help you make smart decisions, which could help you for years to come. Don’t be a buggy whip maker when everyone is riding in a self-driving car—or a rocket ship!

Percent distribution of the labor force by age
Year 16 to 24 25 to 34 35 to 44 45 to 54 55 and older
1996 15.8% 25.3% 27.3% 19.7% 11.9%
2006 14.8 21.5 23.7 23.2 16.8
2016 13.3 22.3 20.6 21.3 22.5
Projected 2026 11.7 22.1 22.2 19.2 24.8
Fastest-growing occupations, projected, 2016–26
Occupation Percent change
Solar photovoltaic installers 104.9%
Wind turbine service technicians 96.3
Home health aides 47.3
Personal care aides 38.6
Physician assistants 37.3
Nurse practitioners 36.1
Statisticians 33.8
Physical therapist assistants 31.0
Software developers, applications 30.7
Mathematicians 29.7

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