The US Census asks people what they do for work. The survey question is used to identify people’s jobs so researchers know how many people are doing what, and which jobs are growing and shrinking. (The exact survey questions asked are “What kind of work was this person doing?” and “What were this person’s most important activities or duties?”) At the most granular level, the government has identified 31,000 possible occupations.
Usually, it’s pretty easy for the Census Bureau to take someone’s response and lump them in with a large group of other similar workers. In my case, I would tell the survey that I write articles for a news website, and it would identify me as a journalist.
Not everyone’s description of what they fits nicely into into an identified occupation. When enough people describe doing work that doesn’t match a pre-defined job, a new category will be created. There are no exact rules for adding a job (pdf), only that respondents identifying it are increasing and the job is sufficiently different from others to merit a new category. The ultimate decision is made by the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
For example, in 2016, the last time the detailed occupational list was updated, doula was added (doulas are people paid to provide counseling to pregnant women before, during, and after childbirth). Although there have been doulas for decades, there weren’t enough of them for the OMB to find it necessary to add it as a distinct position in Census surveys. An increase in their numbers in the early 2010s led to the addition.
Some economists have used the appearance of new jobs as a way to study changes in the US economy. Jeffrey Lin of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia pioneered this work when he examined the geography of people doing “new” jobs (pdf). He found they were typically clustered in urban areas with large numbers of college graduates. Also, in soon to be published work, MIT’s David Autor and Anna Salomons of University of Utrecht use this data to try to understand the nature of jobs coming in the future. They find that most new job categories are a result of new technologies (“wind turbine technician” appeared in 2010), and increases in wealth that allow for niche jobs serving people with lots of disposable income (“oyster preparer” appeared in 2000).
So, what are the very newest jobs? We identified 46 jobs that appeared in the 2016 list of occupations that did not appear in 2010, and for which there was no similar position already identified. For example, “director of application development” was added as a new job in 2016, but “application developer” already exists, so we did not include it. (Identifying these positions was partly a manual process, so it is possible we missed some.)
The majority of the newest jobs are related to health or wellness (“genetic counselor”)—a burgeoning sector of the US labor force—or a result of new technologies (“fiber optic cable installer”). The backstories of others are harder to identify (“dough scaler”) or a result of fads (“professional poker player”). The table below lists the 46 new jobs we identified: