The decimation of “pink-collar” office jobs
- Secretaries are projected to suffer the biggest job losses of any profession over the next decade.
- “Pink-collar” jobs, long a stepping stone into the middle class for many women, are increasingly being handled by technology.
- Globally, some 160 million women may need to find new occupations because of the impact of automation, McKinsey found.
Changes in the nature of office work are hitting middle-class women, with about 500,000 office and administrative jobs in the U.S. expected to vanish by 2026. About 400,000 of those endangered jobs are held by women, according to an analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
To put that in perspective, secretaries and administrative assistants are projected to suffer from the biggest loss in jobs of any profession through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Businesses are cutting office support workers due to a confluence of trends, including automation and advances in software, which makes it easier for professionals to take on some of the tasks typically performed by office administrators.
Despite these stark trends, the decimation of so-called “pink collar” jobs has largely been overlooked by lawmakers. The Trump Administration, for instance, has focused its job-revival efforts on traditional male-dominated jobs like manufacturing and mining.
1 in 5 jobs for women
One in five women in the U.S. work in the nearly 50 office and administrative occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to the IWPR’s analysis. By comparison, only 1 in 20 men work in these professions. Traditionally, these jobs have offered a stepping-stone into the middle-class for millions of women, especially those without a college degree.
In recent years, many of those jobs have been replaced by lower-paying professions. Employers demand for home health aides, for instance, is projected to grow 36% by 2028, according to the BLS. But these jobs, mostly held by women, pay an average of $11.57 an hour for difficult and physically demanding work, compared with $18.69 an hour for secretarial work.
Offices “provide an opportunity for a decent job,” said Ariane Hegewisch, program director for employment and earnings at the IWPR. “And they are very exposed to technical change.”
Need for new skills
The change isn’t only technological, but part of a shift in philosophy about work, Hegewisch added: “It’s the intensification of work.”
In other words, professionals who once relied on administrative assistants to book appointments and travel may now handle those tasks themselves — even though it may not make sense from a productivity standpoint for a highly paid professional to do so.
Globally, as many as 160 million women may need to transition into new occupations and learn new skills to stay employed because of the impact of automation, according to a McKinsey report published in July. In developed countries such as the U.S., women will most likely need more education to maintain an economic foothold, they predict.
The available jobs for women without college degrees are now clustered in occupations such as cashiers, restaurant servers and home health aides, which often pay low wages and offer few if any benefits. Gaining a middle-class foothold now requires a college degree for most women.
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