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The vanishing administrative assistant

The vanishing administrative assistant

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Everyone knows that the construction work dried up when the housing bubble burst and that manufacturing is in a long-term decline. Neither of those occupations, however, had the biggest job loss of the past five years.

That title goes to a category the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "office and administrative support." The "Mad Men" generation called them secretaries, but modern employers are more likely to call them administrative assistants. And the number of them shrank by 1.9 million between 2007 and 2012, according to an IHS Global Insight analysis of BLS occupational data.

The nation lost 1.7 million construction and extraction jobs and 1.6 million production jobs during the same five years.

Why the decline in office-support workers? Doug Handler of IHS Global Insight suggests that we're seeing "a fundamental shift" in the economy:

 "Many firms discovered that they could survive without the support staff that they laid off during the recession, and did not rehire these staff when economic growth resumed. Other firms implemented technology or technology-driven processes matching (or exceeding) the functionality covered by the support staff. Still others may have added requirements to the positions such that the current holders of the position could no longer perform the tasks required of the job."

This shift could have implications, Handler suggests, for everyone from retailers selling office attire to real-estate firms leasing office space.

Overall, the U.S. lost 4 million jobs between 2007 and 2012. The healthiest occupation was health-care providers, with a gain of 772,250 workers. 

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