Low-wage jobs top the list of projected job growth over the next ten years

Enrique Lopezliraand Annette Bernhardt

This month the U.S. Department of Labor released its employment projections for the next decade. We analyzed the job quality of the occupations projected to grow the most during this period, focusing specifically on low-wage jobs. The table below highlights the role of low-wage jobs in projected job growth trends. The top three occupations projected to grow the most between 2020 and 2030 are low-wage jobs: home health and personal care workers, restaurant cooks, and fast-food workers.

Top 10 Occupations with the most projected job growth, 2020-30*

Occupation Title

Projected Job Growth, 2020-30

Median annual wage, 2020(1)

Home health and personal care aides
Cooks, restaurant
Fast food and counter workers
Software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers
Waiters and waitresses
Registered nurses
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand
General and operations managers
First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers
Passenger vehicle drivers, except bus drivers, transit and intercity

* Occupations in orange text represent low-wage occupations, defined as occupations paying less than two-thirds of the median annual full-time wage of $47,083 in 2020. We estimated the median annual full-time wage using the 2020 Current Population Survey ORG files.

(1) Data are from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage data cover non-farm wage and salary workers and do not cover the self-employed, owners and partners in unincorporated firms, or household workers.

Overall, fully half of the top ten occupations in terms of job growth are low-wage occupations. We define a job as low wage if it pays less than $31,389, or two-thirds of the median annual full time wage for all workers in the U.S. in 2020.

Given the sizeable growth projected for low-wage occupations, it is imperative to improve the quality of these jobs. Many low-wage jobs are deemed essential, yet workers lack benefits like access to health care or paid sick leave. In addition, these jobs employ mostly women and workers of color, so increasing the pay and quality of these jobs could ameliorate gender and racial inequities present in labor markets. The Biden Administration is advancing a number of policies and regulatory changes, such as increasing wages for caregivers and making it easier for workers to organize labor unions, which, if implemented, would ensure that workers in these growth jobs can support themselves and their families.

In our analysis, we focused on occupations with the most job growth rather than occupations with the highest projected growth rate, because what is relevant for workers is where the jobs are, not which occupation is adding jobs at a faster pace. Therefore, the number of jobs expected to be added in each occupation over the next ten years is the better indicator of future labor demand.