Industries Overview and Outlook

The U.S. economy is comprised of industries with diverse characteristics. For each industry covered, detailed information is provided about that industry’s specific characteristics: the nature of the industry, working conditions, employment, occupational composition, training and advancement requirements, earnings, and the job outlook. This chapter provides an overview of these characteristics and the outlook for the various industries and economy as a whole.

Nature of the Industry[About this section] [To Top]

Industries are defined by the processes they use to produce goods and services. Workers in the United States produce and provide a wide variety of products and services, and as a result, the types of industries in the U.S. economy range widely—from agriculture, forestry, and fishing to aerospace manufacturing. Each industry has a unique combination of occupations, production techniques, inputs and outputs, and business characteristics. Understanding the nature of the industry is important because it is this combination that determines working conditions, educational requirements, and the job outlook for each of the industries discussed.

Industries consist of many different places of work, called establishments. Establishments are physical locations at which people work, such as the branch office of a bank, a gasoline service station, a school, a department store, or a plant that manufactures machinery. Establishments range from large factories and corporate office complexes employing thousands of workers to small community stores, restaurants, professional offices, and service businesses employing only a few workers. Establishments should not be confused with companies or corporations, which are legal entities. Thus, a company or corporation may have a single establishment or more than one establishment. Establishments that use the same or similar processes to produce goods or services are organized together into industries. Industries, in turn, are organized together into industry groups, which are further organized into industry subsectors and then, ultimately, into industry sectors. For the purposes of labor market analysis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics organized industry sectors into industry supersectors. A company or corporation could own establishments classified in more than one industry, industry sector, or even industry supersector.

Each industry subsector is made up of a number of industry groups, which are, as mentioned, determined by differences in production processes. An easily recognized example of these distinctions is in the food manufacturing subsector, which is made up of industry groups that produce meat products, preserved fruits and vegetables, bakery items, and dairy products, among others. Each of these industry groups requires workers with varying skills and employs unique production techniques. Another example of these distinctions is found in utilities, which employ workers in establishments that provide electricity, natural gas, and water.

There were about 8.8 million private business establishments in the United States in 2008, predominantly small establishments: about 61.6 percent of all establishments employed fewer than 5 workers in March 2008. However, the medium-sized-to-large establishments employ a greater proportion of all workers. For example, establishments that employed 50 or more workers accounted for only 4.5 percent of all establishments, yet employed 56.2 percent of all workers. The large establishments—those with more than 500 workers—accounted for only 0.2 percent of all establishments, but employed 16.7 percent of all workers. Table 1 presents the percent distribution of employment according to establishment size.

Table 1. Percent distribution of establishments and employment in all private industries by establishment size, March 2008
Establishment size
(number of workers)
Establishments Employment
Total 100.0 100.0
1 to 4 61.6 6.9
5 to 9 15.9 8.3
10 to 19 10.6 11.3
20 to 49 7.4 17.4
50 to 99 2.5 13.5
100 to 249 1.4 16.7
250 to 499 0.3 9.3
500 to 999 0.1 6.5
1,000 or more 0.1 10.2

The average size of these establishments varies widely across industries. Most establishments in the construction; wholesale trade; retail trade; finance and insurance; real estate and rental and leasing; and professional, scientific, and technical services industries are small, averaging fewer than 20 employees per establishment. However, wide differences within industries can exist. Hospitals, for example, employ an average of 576.8 workers, while physicians’ offices employ an average of 10.5. Similarly, although there is an average of 14.5 employees per establishment for all of retail trade, department stores employ an average of 119.7 people and jewelry stores employ an average of only 5.6.

Establishment size can play a role in the characteristics of each job. Large establishments generally offer workers greater occupational mobility and advancement, whereas small establishments may provide their employees with broader experience by requiring them to assume a wider range of responsibilities. Also, small establishments are distributed throughout the Nation: every locality has a few small businesses. Large establishments, in contrast, employ more workers and are less common, but they play a much more prominent role in the economies of the areas in which they are located.

Work Environment[About this section] [To Top]

Just as the goods and services produced in each industry are different, working conditions vary significantly among industries. In some industries, the work setting is quiet, temperature controlled, and virtually hazard free, whereas other industries are characterized by noisy, uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous work environments. Some industries require long workweeks and shift work, but standard 40-hour workweeks are common in many other industries. In still other industries, a lot of the jobs can be seasonal, requiring long hours during busy periods and abbreviated schedules during slower months. Production processes, establishment size, and the physical location of the work usually determine these varying conditions.

Work schedules are another important reflection of working conditions, and the operational requirements of each industry lead to large differences in hours worked and in part-time versus full-time status. In food services and drinking places, for example, fully 37.9 percent of employees worked part time in 2008, compared with only 2.0 percent in aerospace product and parts manufacturing. Table 2 presents industries having relatively high and low percentages of part-time workers.

Table 2. Part-time workers as a percent of total employment, selected industries, 2008
Industry Percent part-time
All industries 15.9
Many part-time workers
  Food services and drinking places 37.9
  Clothing, accessories, and general merchandise stores 30.6
  Grocery stores 30.4
  Arts, entertainment, and recreation 29.4
  Child day care services 29.4
  Motion picture and video industries 21.7
  Social assistance, except child day care 23.3
Few part-time workers
  Mining 2.6
  Computer and electronic product manufacturing 3.1
  Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 2.2
  Steel manufacturing 2.2
  Motor vehicle and parts manufacturing 2.1
  Utilities 2.1
  Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 2.0

The low proportion of part-time workers in some manufacturing industries often reflects the continuous nature of the production processes, which makes it difficult to adapt the volume of production to short-term fluctuations in product demand. Once these processes are begun, it is costly to halt them: machinery must be tended and materials must be moved continuously. For example, the chemical-manufacturing industry produces many different chemical products through controlled chemical reactions. These reactions require chemical operators to monitor and adjust the flow of materials into and out of the line of production. Because production may continue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, under the watchful eyes of chemical operators who work in shifts, full-time workers are more likely to be employed. Retail trade and service industries, by contrast, have seasonal cycles marked by various events, such as school openings or important holidays, that affect the hours worked. During busy times of the year, longer hours are common, whereas slack periods lead to cutbacks in work hours and shorter workweeks. Jobs in these industries are generally appealing to students and others who desire flexible, part-time schedules.

Employment[About this section] [To Top]

The total number of jobs in the United States in 2008 was 150.9 million, comprising 11.6 million self-employed workers, 121,500 unpaid workers in family businesses, and 139.2 million wage and salary jobs. The total number of jobs is projected to increase to 166.2 million by 2018, and wage and salary jobs are projected to account for almost 153.8 million of them.

As shown in table 3, wage and salary jobs are the vast majority of all jobs, but they are not evenly divided among the various industries. Education, health, and social services had the largest number of jobs in 2008, almost 30.3 million. The trade supersector was the second largest, with about 21.3 million jobs, followed by professional and business services, with 17.6 million jobs in 2008. Manufacturing accounted for roughly 13.4 million jobs in the United States in 2008. Wage and salary employment ranged from just 159,000 in steel manufacturing to more than 14.3 million in healthcare, among the industries covered. The three largest industries—education services, healthcare, and food services and drinking places—together accounted for 37.4 million jobs, more than one-quarter of the Nation's wage and salary employment.

Table 3. Wage and salary employment in industries covered, 2008 and projected change, 2008-18 (Employment in thousands)
Occupation 2008 2018 2008-18
Employment Percent
Employment Percent
All industries 139,206 100.0 153,842 100.0 10.5 14,635
Natural resources, construction, and utilities
9,796 7.0 10,966 7.1 11.9 1,170
  Agriculture, forestry, and fishing 1,305 0.9 1,300 0.8 -0.4 -5
  Construction 7,215 5.2 8,552 5.6 18.5 1,337
  Mining 717 0.5 613 0.4 -14.5 -104
  Utilities 560 0.4 501 0.3 -10.6 -59
Manufacturing 13,431 9.6 12,225 7.9 -9.0 -1,206
  Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 504 0.4 502 0.3 -0.3 -2
  Chemical manufacturing, except drugs 560 0.4 486 0.3 -13.3 -74
  Computer and electronic product manufacturing 1,248 0.9 1,007 0.7 -19.3 -241
  Food manufacturing 1,485 1.1 1,483 1.0 -0.1 -2
  Machinery manufacturing 1,186 0.9 1,095 0.7 -7.6 -90
  Motor vehicle and parts manufacturing 877 0.6 734 0.5 -18.3 -143
  Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 290 0.2 307 0.2 6.1 18
  Printing 594 0.4 499 0.3 -18.0 -95
  Steel manufacturing 159 0.1 139 0.1 -12.7 -20
  Textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing 497 0.4 259 0.2 -47.9 -238
Trade 21,320 15.3 22,230 14.5 4.3 910
  Automobile dealers 1,186 0.9 1,118 0.7 -5.7 -68
  Clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores 4,531 3.3 5,034 1.3 11.1 503
  Grocery stores 2,497 1.8 2,509 1.6 0.5 12
  Wholesale trade 5,964 4.3 6,220 4.0 4.3 256
Transportation and warehousing 4,505 3.2 4,950 3.2 9.9 446
  Air transportation 493 0.4 529 0.3 7.5 37
  Truck transportation and warehousing 2,064 1.5 2,290 1.5 11.0 226
Information 2,997 2.2 3,115 2.0 3.9 118
  Broadcasting 316 0.2 340 0.2 7.4 24
  Motion picture and video industries 362 0.3 413 0.3 14.1 51
  Publishing, except software 619 0.4 499 0.3 -19.3 -120
  Software publishers 264 0.2 343 0.2 30.0 79
  Telecommunications 1,022 0.7 932 0.6 -8.8 -90
Financial activities 8,146 5.9 8,703 5.7 6.8 557
  Banking 1,842 1.3 1,987 1.3 7.9 145
  Insurance 2,309 1.7 2,376 1.5 2.9 68
  Securities, commodities, and other investments 858 0.6 959 0.6 11.8 101
Professional and business services 17,552 12.6 21,644 14.1 23.3 4,092
  Advertising and public relations services 462 0.3 499 0.3 8.0 37
  Computer systems design and related services 1,450 1.0 2,107 1.4 45.3 656
  Employment services 3,144 2.3 3,744 2.4 19.1 600
  Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 1,009 0.7 1,844 1.2 82.8 835
  Scientific research and development services 622 0.4 779 0.5 25.3 157
Education, health, and social services 30,316 21.8 36,016 23.4 18.8 5,700
  Child day care services 859 0.6 992 0.6 15.5 133
  Educational services 13,471 9.7 15,154 9.9 12.5 1,683
  Healthcare 14,336 10.3 17,559 11.4 22.5 3,223
  Social assistance, except child day care 1,650 1.2 2,311 1.5 40.1 661
Leisure and hospitality 13,459 10 14,601 9 8.5 1,142
  Arts, entertainment, and recreation 1,970 1.4 2,274 1.5 15.5 304
  Food services and drinking places 9,632 6.9 10,371 6.7 7.7 739
  Hotels and other accommodations 1,857 1.3 1,957 1.3 5.4 99
Government and advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations 11,581 8.3 12,648 8.2 9.2 1,067
  Advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations 1,289 0.9 1,471 1.0 14.1 182
  Federal Government 2,017 1.4 2,209 1.4 9.5 192
  State and local government, except education and health 8,275 5.9 8,968 5.8 8.4 694
NOTE: May not add to totals due to omission of industries not covered.

Although workers of all ages are employed in each industry, certain industries tend to hire workers of distinct age groups. Thus, for the reasons mentioned previously, retail trade employs a relatively high proportion of younger workers to fill part-time and temporary positions. The manufacturing sector, in contrast, has a relatively high median age, because many jobs in the sector require a number of years to learn and perfect specialized skills that do not easily transfer to other industries. Also, manufacturing employment has been declining, providing fewer opportunities for younger workers to get jobs. As a result, nearly one-fourth of the workers in retail trade were 24 years of age or younger in 2008, compared with only 7.8 percent of workers in manufacturing. Table 4 contrasts the age distribution of workers in all industries with the distributions in five very different industries.

Table 4. Percent distribution of wage and salary workers by age group, selected industries, 2008
Industry Age group
16 to 24 25 to 44 45 to 64 65 and older
All industries 13 45 38 4
Computer systems design and related services 6 58 34 2
Educational services 9 42 44 4
Food services and drinking places 42 39 17 2
Telecommunications 9 52 38 1
Utilities 5 42 51 2

Employment in some industries is concentrated in a few regions of the country. Such industries often are located near a source of raw or unfinished materials upon which the industry relies. For example, oil and gas extraction jobs are concentrated in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma; many textile mills and manufacturing jobs are found in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia; and a significant proportion of motor vehicle manufacturing jobs are located in Michigan and Ohio. In contrast, some industries—such as grocery stores and educational services—have jobs distributed throughout the Nation, reflecting the general population density.

Occupations in the Industry[About this section] [To Top]

The occupations found in each industry depend on the types of services provided or goods produced. For example, because construction companies require skilled tradesworkers to build and renovate buildings, these companies employ large numbers of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, and sheet metal workers. Other occupations common to construction include construction equipment operators and mechanics, installers, and repairers. Retail trade, in contrast, displays and sells manufactured goods to consumers. As a result, retail trade employs numerous retail salespersons and other workers, including more than three-fourths of all cashiers. Table 5 shows the industry sectors and the occupational groups that predominate in each.

Table 5. Industry sectors and their largest occupational group, 2008
Industry sector Largest occupational group Percentage of industry wage and salary jobs
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations 60.0
Mining Construction and extraction occupations 41.8
Construction Construction and extraction occupations 65.7
Manufacturing Production occupations 52.3
Wholesale trade Sales and related occupations 26.8
Retail trade Sales and related occupations 54.5
Transportation and warehousing Transportation and material moving occupations 59.7
Utilities Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations 26.1
Information Professional and related occupations 34.0
Finance and insurance Office and administrative support occupations 48.4
Real estate and rental and leasing Sales and related occupations 24.9
Professional, scientific, and technical services Professional and related occupations 45.6
Management of companies and enterprises Management, business, and financial occupations 35.6
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services Service occupations 32.5
Educational services, public and private Professional and related occupations 67.4
Healthcare and social assistance Professional and related occupations 43.5
Arts, entertainment, and recreation Service occupations 59.0
Accommodation and food services Service occupations 86.9
Government Service occupations 25.4

The Nation’s occupational distribution clearly is influenced by its industrial structure, yet there are many occupations, such as general managers or secretaries, that are found in all industries. In fact, some of the largest occupations in the U.S. economy are dispersed across many industries. For example, professional and related occupations make up the largest major group of occupations in the Nation while also experiencing the fastest growth rate. (See table 6.) Other large major occupational groups include service occupations, office and administrative support occupations, sales and related occupations, and management, business, and financial occupations.

Table 6. Total employment and projected change by broad occupational group, 2008-18 (Employment in thousands)
Occupational group Employment, 2008 Percent change, 2008-18
Total, all occupations 150,932 10.1
Professional and related occupations 31,054 16.8
Service occupations 29,576 13.8
Office and administrative support occupations 24,101 7.7
Sales and related occupations 15,903 6.2
Management, business, and financial occupations 15,747 10.6
Production occupations 10,083 -3.5
Transportation and material moving occupations 9,826 4.0
Construction and extraction occupations 7,810 13.0
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations 5,798 7.5
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations 1,035 -0.9

Training and Advancement[About this section] [To Top]

Workers prepare for employment in many ways, but the most fundamental form of job training in the United States is a high school education. About 90 percent of the Nation’s workforce possessed a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, many occupations require more training, so growing numbers of workers pursue additional training or education after high school. For example, 29 percent of the Nation’s workforce reported having completed some college or an associate's degree as their highest level of education, while an additional 32 percent continued in their studies and attained a bachelor's or higher degree. In addition to these types of formal education, other sources of qualifying training include formal company-provided training, apprenticeships, informal on-the-job training, correspondence courses, Armed Forces vocational training, and non-work-related training.

The unique combination of training required to succeed in each industry is determined largely by the industry’s production process and the mix of occupations it requires. For example, manufacturing employs many machine operators, who generally need little formal education after high school, but sometimes complete considerable on-the-job training. In contrast, educational services employs many types of teachers, most of whom require a bachelor’s or higher degree. Training requirements by industry sector are shown in table 7.

Table 7. Percent distribution of workers by highest grade completed or degree received, by industry sector, 2008
Industry sector High school diploma or less Some college or associate degree Bachelor's degree or higher
All industries 39.1 29.1 31.8
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting 62.5 22.2 15.2
Mining 56.9 26.4 16.8
Construction 62.5 25.5 12.0
Manufacturing 48.5 26.2 25.3
Wholesale trade 41.8 29.2 29.0
Retail trade 49.0 33.4 17.7
Transportation and warehousing 50.9 32.5 16.6
Utilities 38.3 34.9 26.8
Information 24.3 31.9 43.8
Finance and insurance 20.5 31.6 47.9
Real estate and rental and leasing 32.0 33.5 34.5
Professional, scientific, and technical services 12.6 23.5 63.9
Administrative and support and waste management services 53.7 27.7 18.6
Educational services 16.3 19.2 64.5
Healthcare and social assistance 28.5 34.8 36.7
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 37.3 31.9 30.9
Accommodation and food services 58.6 29.5 11.9

On the one hand, persons with no more than a high school diploma accounted for about 62.5 percent of all workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting; 62.5 percent in construction; 58.6 percent in accommodation and food services; 56.9 percent in mining; 53.7 percent in administrative and support and waste management services; and 50.9 in transportation and warehousing. On the other hand, those who had acquired a bachelor’s or higher degree accounted for 64.5 percent of workers in private educational services; 63.9 percent in professional, scientific, and technical services; 47.9 percent in finance and insurance; and 43.8 percent in information.

Education and training also are important factors in the variety of paths to advancement that are found in different industries. Each industry has some unique such paths, but workers who complete additional on-the-job training or education generally help their chances of being promoted. In much of the manufacturing sector, for example, production workers who receive training in management and computer skills increase their likelihood of being promoted to supervisory positions. Other factors that affect advancement and that may figure prominently in the industries covered include the size of the establishments, institutionalized career tracks, and the mix of occupations in the industry. As a result, persons who seek jobs in particular industries should be aware of how the paths to advancement and other factors in those industries may shape their careers.

  Job Outlook[About this section] [To Top]

Total wage and salary employment in the United States is projected to increase by about 11 percent over the 2008–18 period. Employment growth, however, is only one source of job openings; the total number of openings in any industry also depends on the industry’s current employment level and its need to replace workers who leave their jobs. Throughout the economy, replacement needs will create more job openings than will employment growth. Employment size is a major determinant of job openings: larger industries generally have larger numbers of workers who must be replaced; hence, these industries provide more openings. The occupational composition of an industry is another factor. On the one hand, industries with high concentrations of professional, technical, and other jobs that require more formal education—jobs that workers tend to leave less frequently—generally have fewer openings resulting from replacement needs. On the other hand, more replacement openings generally occur in industries with high concentrations of service, laborer, and other jobs that require little formal education and have lower wages, because workers in these jobs are more likely to leave their occupations.

Employment growth is determined largely by changes in three factors: demand for the goods and services provided by an industry, worker productivity, and foreign competition. Each industry is affected by a different set of variables that determines the number and composition of jobs that will be available. Even within an industry, employment may grow at different rates in different occupations. For example, changes in technology, production methods, and business practices in an industry might eliminate some jobs while creating others. Some industries may be growing rapidly overall, yet opportunities for workers in occupations could be stagnant or even declining because the workers are adversely affected by technological change. Conversely, employment in some occupations may be declining in the economy as a whole, yet may be increasing in a rapidly growing industry.

As shown earlier in table 3, employment growth rates over the next decade will vary widely among industries. Natural resources, construction, and utilities are expected to grow because of growth in construction, offsetting job declines in agriculture, mining, and utilities. Employment growth in construction will stem from new factory construction as existing facilities are modernized; from new school construction, reflecting growth in the school-age population; and from infrastructure improvements, such as road and bridge construction. Employment in agriculture, forestry, and fishing is anticipated to continue to decrease with the consolidation of farmland, increasing worker productivity, and the depletion of wild fish stocks. Employment in mining is expected to decline through the use of new laborsaving technology and with the Nation’s continued reliance on foreign sources of energy.

Employment in manufacturing is projected to decline overall, though with some growth in selected manufacturing industries. Employment declines are expected in chemical manufacturing, except drugs; computer and electronic product manufacturing; machinery manufacturing; motor vehicle and parts manufacturing; printing; steel manufacturing; and textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing. Textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing is projected to lose about 238,200 jobs over the 2008–18 period—more than any other manufacturing industry—primarily because increasing imports are replacing domestic products.

Employment gains are expected in some manufacturing industries. Employment growth in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is expected as sales of pharmaceuticals increase with the growth of the population—particularly the elderly—and with the introduction of new medicines into the market. Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing also have growing export markets. Agricultural equipment manufacturing is the only machinery manufacturing industry expected to grow as the diverse range of products it produces is supplied to both domestic and foreign consumers.

Growth in overall employment will result primarily from growth in service-providing industries over the 2008–18 period. Almost all of those industries are expected to have increasing employment. Job growth is expected to be led by healthcare and educational services—the two largest industries discussed in the Career Guice. Large numbers of new jobs also are expected in food services and drinking places; social assistance, except child daycare; management, scientific, and technical consulting services; employment services, State and local government, except education and healthcare; arts, entertainment, and recreation; computer systems design and related services; and wholesale trade. Together, these sectors will account for nearly two-thirds of all new wage and salary jobs across the Nation. Employment growth is expected in many other service-providing industries discussed in the Career Guice, but such growth will result in far fewer numbers of new jobs.

Healthcare will account for the most new wage and salary jobs, almost 3.2 million over the 2008–18 period. Population growth, advances in medical technologies that increase the number of treatable diseases, and the older age groups’ growing share of the population will drive employment growth. Hospitals, public and private—the largest healthcare industry group—are expected to account for about 571,000 of these new jobs.

Educational services are expected to grow by 12 percent over the 2008–18 period, adding about 1.7 million new jobs. A growing emphasis on improving education and making it available to more children and young adults will be the primary factors contributing to this industry’s employment growth. Growth is expected at all levels of education, particularly the postsecondary level, as children of the baby boomers continue to reach college age and as more adults pursue continuing education to enhance or update their skills.

Employment in the Nation’s fastest growing industry—management, scientific, and technical consulting services—is expected to increase by 83 percent, adding 835,200 jobs over the 2008–18 period. The industry’s projected job growth can be attributed primarily to economic growth and to the increasing complexity of business. A growing number of businesses will result in increased demand for advice in all areas of business operations and planning.

The food services and drinking places industry is expected to add 738,800 new jobs over the 2008–18 projection period. Population growth, a rise in the number of dual-income families, and increasing dining sophistication will contribute to job growth. In addition, the increasing diversity of the population will contribute to job growth in food services and drinking places, many of which will offer a wider variety of ethnic foods and drinks.

State and local government, except education and healthcare, is expected to add 693,500 jobs. The industry’s growth of 8 percent over the 2008–18 period will result primarily from increases in the population and its demand for public services. Additional job growth will ensue as State and local governments continue to assume greater responsibility from the Federal Government for administering federally funded programs.

Wholesale trade is expected to add more than 255,900 new jobs over the coming decade, reflecting growth both in trade and in the overall economy. Most new jobs will be for sales representatives at the wholesale and manufacturing levels. However, industry consolidation and the growth of electronic commerce using the Internet are expected to limit job growth to 4 percent over the 2008–18 period, less than the 11 percent projected for wage and salary jobs in all industries.

Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Like other characteristics, earnings differ by industry as a result of a highly complicated process that reflects a number of factors. For example, earnings may vary with the nature of the occupations in the industry, the average hours worked, the geographical location, workers’ average age, educational requirements, industry profits, and the degree of union representation of the workforce. In general, wages are highest in metropolitan areas, to compensate for the higher cost of living there. Also, as would be expected, industries that employ a large proportion of unskilled minimum-wage or part-time workers tend to have lower earnings.

The difference in earnings between the software publishing and food services and drinking places industries illustrates how various characteristics of industries can result in great differences in earnings. In software publishing, earnings of nonsupervisory wage and salary workers averaged $1,407 a week in 2008, while in food services and drinking places, earnings averaged $233 weekly. The difference is large primarily because software publishing establishments employ more highly skilled, full-time workers, while food services and drinking places employ many lower skilled workers on a part-time basis. In addition, most workers in software publishing are paid an annual salary, whereas many workers in food services and drinking places are paid an hourly wage, although they are able to supplement their low hourly wage rate with money they receive as tips. Table 8 highlights the industries with the highest and lowest average weekly earnings.

Table 8. Average weekly earnings of production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls, selected industries, 2008
Industry Earnings
All industries $608
Industries with high earnings
  Software publishers 1,407
  Computer systems design and related services 1,401
  Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 1,305
  Scientific research and development services 1,269
  Utilities 1,231
  Securities, commodities, and other investments 1,137
Industries with low earnings
  Employment services 504
  Hotels and other accommodations 402
  Arts, entertainment, and recreation 355
  Child day care services 345
  Grocery stores 340
  Food services and drinking places 233

Employee benefits, once a minor addition to wages and salaries, continue to grow in diversity and cost. In addition to providing traditional benefits—paid vacations, life and health insurance, and pensions—many employers now offer various benefits to accommodate the needs of a changing labor force. Such benefits include childcare, employee assistance programs that provide counseling for personal problems, and wellness programs that encourage exercise, stress management, and self-improvement. Benefits vary among occupational groups, full- and part-time workers, public- and private-sector workers, regions, unionized and nonunionized workers, and small and large establishments. Data indicate that full-time workers and workers in medium-sized and large establishments—those with 100 or more workers—usually receive better benefits than do part-time workers and workers in smaller establishments.

Union representation of the workforce varies widely by industry and also may play a role in determining earnings and benefits. In 2008, about 14 percent of workers throughout the Nation were union members or were covered by union contracts. As table 9 demonstrates, union affiliation of workers varies widely by industry. The highest rate of union membership was 46 percent, in air transportation, followed by 38 percent, in educational services, and 36 percent, in public administration. Industries with the lowest unionization rates were software publishing, 2 percent; food services and drinking places, 1.9 percent; computer systems design and related services, 1.7 percent; and management, scientific, and technical consulting services, 1.4 percent.

Table 9. Union members and other workers covered by union contracts as a percent of total employment, selected industries, 2008
Industry Percent union members or
covered by union contract
All industries 13.7
Industries with high unionization rates
  Air transportation 46.4
  Educational services 38.4
  Public administration 36.0
  Utilities 30.2
Industries with low unionization rates
  Software publishing 2.0
  Food services and drinking places 1.9
  Computer systems design and related services 1.7
  Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 1.4

Continual changes in the economy have far-reaching and complex effects on employment in each of the industries covered. Jobseekers should be aware of these changes, keeping alert for developments that can affect both job opportunities in industries and the variety of occupations that are found in each industry. For more detailed information on specific occupations, consult our career resources, which provide information on hundreds of occupations.

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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