The 7 Fastest-Growing Middle Class Jobs

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After several months of stubbornly high unemployment and European economic turmoil, Americans haven’t exactly warmed to the idea that better days are ahead. A recent Gallup poll taken from July 16 to July 22 revealed that 58% of Americans believe overall economic conditions — which include the unemployment situation — are getting worse.

But the recent sour economic mood among Americans hasn’t led the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics to bet against American job growth — at least in the long run. In fact, the agency’s most recent Occupational Outlook Handbook released in March projects that total employment will grow by a healthy 20.5 million jobs in the U.S. from 2010 to 2020.

Of course, some industries will add jobs much faster than others. Thanks to an aging and growing overall population, the bulk of new job openings are projected to be in health care and the social-assistance industry, where the number of job openings are expected to grow by 33% — more than twice the average growth rate (14%) for all other occupations that the Bureau tracksThat’s an extra 5.7 million jobs between 2010 and 2020.

Other industries that are expected to add millions of new jobs from 2010 to 2020 include:

  • Professional, technical and scientific services (up 29%, adding 2.1 million new jobs)
  • Educational services (up 14%, adding 1.8 million new jobs)
  • Construction (up 33%, adding 1.8 million new jobs)
  • Retail trade (up 12%, adding 1.8 million new jobs).

While sheer industry job growth is nice, it’s the money that does most of the talking. So which professions in particular offer the most job openings and the most attractive middle-class pay stubs?

For answers, we looked through the bureau’s latest list of 20 jobs that are expected to have the most new job openings between 2010 and 2020. (Note: The bureau openings figure includes actual job additions, as well as vacancies from employees who have retired or changed careers),

While many professions made a comeback, this year’s list of middle-class jobs looks a bit different than the list we featured last year in 10 Middle-Class Jobs That Are Actually Growing, based on the bureau’s projections.

Here are seven jobs that boast median salaries of more than $30,000 and have excellent growth: 

7. Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing (Excluding Technical and Scientific Products)

If you’re looking for good job prospects and a sizable paycheck, you may not want to hang up on this sales job. Unlike traditional retail sales representatives who sell products straight to consumers, these sales representatives work under wholesalers and manufacturers to sell products to other businesses, government agencies and other organizations. For example, a wholesale or manufacturing sales rep may sell sound or lighting equipment to theaters, or sell surveillance cameras to businesses that could use more security.

The bureau expects third-party, independent sales agencies to add the most new jobs in this field over the next decade, especially as manufacturers and wholesalers look to cut internal employee costs and have sales be handled by these specialized contractors.

This job may require some cold calling, but the median salary is more than twice as high as a retail sales representative’s salary — $52,440 vs. $20,990 — making each sale that much more worth it.

Median Salary: $52,440
Minimum Training/Education:
Moderate-term on-the-job training, high school diploma
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 223,400

6. Elementary School Teachers (Excluding Special Education)

Elementary school teachers make a welcome return from last year’s list of growing middle-class jobs.

Despite today’s often-squeezed local and city budgets, the bureau expects overall enrollment in elementary schools to grow and class sizes to shrink over the decade. On average, new elementary school teaching jobs should increase at a rate of 17% over the 10-year period.

The bureau projects that the fastest job growth in the field will be in the Southern and Western regions of the country — where student enrollment has been growing at a healthy clip. But don’t expect equal employment opportunities in every part of the country. Student enrollment in the Midwest is expected to be merely “holding steady,” and enrollment in the Northeast is expected to have declines.

The bureau also expects that many more teaching opportunities will exist in urban and rural areas (especially in poorer districts with higher faculty turnover) than in suburban areas.

Median Salary: $51,660
Minimum Training/Education:
Internship/residency, bachelor’s degree and teacher’s certification
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 248,800

5. Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks

Every business needs someone to keep track of the income, cut payroll checks, pay the bills and keep track of the finances. The more businesses that pop up, the more bookkeepers, accountants and auditing clerks are needed to keep the books organized. And in a post-financial crisis world where stricter regulations have been placed on financial reporting, businesses will need more accountingservices than before to ensure accuracy in the corporate books.

The bureau expects that jobs in this field will grow about as fast as all other occupations it tracks, or 14%.

Median Salary: $34,030
Minimum Training/Education:
Moderate-term on-the-job training, high school diploma (though associate or bachelor’s degrees with coursework in accounting is preferred)
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 259,000

4. Postsecondary Teachers

As college education becomes a “must” for most high school grads and a valuable retraining tool for unemployed workers seeking a career change, expect college enrollment — and the demand for more professors — to grow at a healthy clip.

Tenured positions will be harder to land than adjunct and part-time positions, and nursing and engineering professors will see more opportunities than humanities professors. But overall, as current professors begin to retire and as college enrollment swells, openings in this profession should grow by 17% between 2010 and 2020, slightly faster than other occupations tracked.

Median Salary: $62,050
Minimum Training/Education:
Doctoral or professional degree
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 305,700

3. Truck Drivers (Heavy and Tractor-Trailer)

What do online retailers, local shops and big-box stores have in common? They need products shipped to them regularly and they need to replenish inventories quickly — a service that truck drivers will be needed for, especially with long-term economic growth. And in an economywhere there never seems to be enough jobs to go around, it may be surprising to hear that there’s actually a shortage of qualified truck drivers.

Those brave enough to drive big-rig trucks and spend days or weeks apart from their families will have great job prospects and healthy paychecks (10% of drivers made more than $57,480 in May 2010) — with relatively little education or training required.

Median Salary: $37,770
Minimum Training/Education:
High school diploma and a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Two years of related work experience preferred.
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 330,100

2. Customer Service Representatives

Customer service is not for everyone, but those with strong listening skills, problem-solving skills, patience, and a genuine fondness for people will find plenty of employment opportunities in a customer service role in almost any economy.

And depending on the industry, many customer service jobs can offer a decent paycheck and flexible hours. So which industries pay the most? According to the bureau, while customer service reps in retail had a modest median wage of $11.49 per hour ($23,899 annually), those in the credit-intermediation and insurance industries had median wages of $14.53 per hour ($30,222 annually) and $16.41 per hour ($34,132 annually), respectively.

While the overall number of customer service rep jobs are expected to grow slightly faster than other occupations (15% by 2020), opportunities in U.S. telephone call centers should explode by comparison. Despite the threat of outsourcing, customer preferences have convinced many companies to keep call centers in the U.S. No wonder the bureau projects a blazing 46% growth in the number of telephone call-center customer service rep jobs by 2020.

Median Salary: $30,460
Minimum Training/Education:
Short-term on-the-job training, high school diploma or equivalent
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 338,400

1. Registered Nurses

This perennial choice for fastest growing job in America tops our list once again. The bureau expects the number of registered nurse job openings to grow 27% (nearly twice as fast as the average of all other occupations tracked by the bureau) over the decade. Advancements in medical technology have made it possible to treat more previously untreatable diseases — creating a greater demand for nurses. In addition, an increased emphasis on preventive care practices and an aging baby boomer population with increased medical needs also means — you guessed it — even more future demand for nurses.

RN job openings are expected to grow faster than average in outpatient care centers that offer same-day chemotherapy, rehabilitation, surgery and other medical treatments where patients don’t stay overnight. In addition, the bureau expects hospitals, which usually have high turnover among RNs because of the demanding work hours, to have many more openings than physicians’ offices. The bureau also says there will be exceptional job opportunities for RNs who can treat patients with chronic medical conditions in long-term care facilities or in a patient’s home.

With a whopping 711,000 projected new job openings expected by 2020 and a median salary of $64,690, this is a field that will likely take good care of you and your finances.

Median Salary: $64,690
Minimum Training/Education:
Associate degree in nursing, a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program
Projected New Job Openings by 2020: 711,900

If you would like to see job growth projections from 2010 to 2020 in your area (for these occupations or any others), the Bureau of Labor Statistics allows you to search by state here.

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