20 popular jobs in the 1980s that have almost disappeared

back to the future part II

  • The US economy has changed a lot since 1980.
  • To get a sense of that change, we found 20 industries that employed hundreds of thousands of people in 1980 that have only a fraction as many workers today.
  • Clothing and textiles were especially hard hit.
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Life in America has changed a lot since the 1980s: the Cold War ended, the internet went mainstream, and the world became far more connected.

The US economy has also changed a lot since that neon-colored decade. To take a look at how things have transformed, we found 20 industries that have seen massive declines in employment over the last four decades.

Using data from the 1980 Census and the 2017 American Community Survey assembled by the Minnesota Population Center’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series project, we looked at what industries had the biggest percent drops in employment between then and now, among industries with at least 100,000 employees in 1980.

Most of the industries on the list are in mining or manufacturing, two sectors that have been radically transformed by technology and globalization over the last four decades. Clothing and textiles were especially hard hit.

Here are the industries, along with the number of employees in 1980 and 2017:

20. Newspaper publishing and printing: 475,800 people were employed in 1980, falling to 207,700 in 2017 (a 56% drop).

19. Metalworking machinery manufacturing: 370,300 people were employed in 1980, falling to 156,600 in 2017 (a 58% drop).

18. Iron and steel foundries: 208,500 people were employed in 1980, falling to 88,100 in 2017 (a 58% drop).

17. Metal forging and stamping: 183,300 people were employed in 1980, falling to 73,700 in 2017 (a 60% drop).

16. Blast furnaces, steelworks, and rolling and finishing mills: 682,200 people were employed in 1980, falling to 270,000 in 2017 (a 60% drop).

15. Construction and material handling machines manufacturing: 389,400 people were employed in 1980, falling to 152,400 in 2017 (a 61% drop).

14. Water transportation: 189,600 people were employed in 1980, falling to 74,000 in 2017 (a 61% drop).

13. Household appliances manufacturing: 185,800 people were employed in 1980, falling to 71,400 in 2017 (a 62% drop).

12. Primary aluminum production: 171,600 people were employed in 1980, falling to 64,100 in 2017 (a 63% drop).

11. Metal mining: 122,000 people were employed in 1980, falling to 45,200 in 2017 (a 63% drop).

10. Computer and related equipment manufacturing: 419,400 people were employed in 1980, falling to 146,600 in 2017 (a 65% drop).

9. Guided missiles, space vehicles, and parts manufacturing: 198,100 people were employed in 1980, falling to 66,900 in 2017 (a 66% drop).

8. Cutlery, hand tools, and general hardware manufacturing: 143,900 people were employed in 1980, falling to 46,500 in 2017 (a 68% drop).

7. Coal mining: 263,100 people were employed in 1980, falling to 62,500 in 2017 (a 76% drop).

6. Radio, TV, and communication equipment manufacturing: 588,900 people were employed in 1980, falling to 136,000 in 2017 (a 77% drop).

5. Primary metal industries, other than iron, steel, and aluminum: 251,200 people were employed in 1980, falling to 54,000 in 2017 (a 78% drop).

4. Footwear manufacturing: 160,600 people were employed in 1980, falling to 32,500 in 2017 (an 80% drop).

3. Yarn, thread, and fabric mills: 568,300 people were employed in 1980, falling to 107,600 in 2017 (an 81% drop).

2. Apparel and accessories manufacturing: 1,149,300 people were employed in 1980, falling to 206,900 in 2017 (an 82% drop).

1. Knitting mills: 178,100 people were employed in 1980, falling to 17,700 in 2017 (a 90% drop).