Interactive Monday: Wage and Employment Growth Across Occupations

Sep 30, 2018
Interactive, Career, Research

This week’s interactive comes to us from Axios and shows the relationship between wages and employment growth over time and across occupations.  The chart is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and compares data from the years 2009 and 2017.  A few notes about the chart:

  • Each bubble shows a different occupation.  Hovering over the bubble brings up the details for the occupation.  The size of the bubble represents the number of workers in that occupation and the shading shows the inflation-adjusted percent change in wages over 8 years.
  • The vertical axis shows the change in the total number of jobs in that occupation.  At the top of the chart you can find “Food Preparation and Serving” which added almost 2 million jobs in just 8 years!  The bottom of the chart is dominated by office jobs: occupations like administrative support, secretarial and administrative work lost hundreds of thousands of jobs each.
  • The horizontal axis shows median annual earnings.  Lower paying occupations, like food prep and retail, are found on the left side of the chart while higher paying occupations, like law and management, are found on the right side of the chart.

Wage and employment growth across occupations

Here are some questions and ideas to get you and your students started:

  • Identify 2 or 3 occupations that experience a large growth in wages.  Why might pay have increased in these fields? What are some fields where wages decreased?  Why might pay have decreased in those occupations?
  • Compare the highest paying occupations on the chart with the lowest paying occupations on the chart.  The highest paid occupation makes six times as much as the lowest paid occupation! What explains this difference?  Why would someone choose to work in one of the lower paying occupations? What do the high paying occupations have in common that might explain their higher salaries?
  • Take a step back and look at the chart as a whole.  What insights can you gather about the changes in workforce, pay, and occupation over time?  Feel free to speculate and make predictions.
  • If you have the time, take one of your insights and try doing some research to validate your hypothesis.  Is this something researchers, writers, or pundits have noticed? Can you find data or research that provides deeper insight into our changing economy?

Looking for more resources to expand your discussion?  Try adding in one of these:

  • Along with their 2017 data set, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has provided a summary of highlights.  The summary has dozens of fascinating insights into the data set that can set the stage for discussion and further research, with comparisons based on occupations, states, wages, and more.  The 2017 data set can also be found on the summary page.
  • This Washington Post article on “How the U.S. economy turned six good jobs into bad ones” is full of interesting graphics and insights into how wages and workforce size have changed across a number of industries.  Rather than an overhead view, this article offers the chance to dig down into specific industries and includes discussion of the some of the factors that may be driving these changes.


About the Author

Greg Livingston

Greg comes to us from a big Canadian family full of passionate educators: the joy of teaching and learning has always been an important part of his experience. He saw first hand the need for personal finance education after having his student research careers and create a budget in his computers class. His students would not stop telling him how important this project was, even years later. Greg brings his unique experience designing and managing online learning communities for Columbia University, Connected Camps, and others to the Next Gen team. He is excited to connect with great teachers and support them in their challenging and rewarding work. Greg is a proud jack of all trades - outside of work he likes to play soccer and hockey, make music, read old books, and explore the great outdoors.