Video Store Clerks and 14 Other Jobs No One Will Remember in 20 Years
Coopers, wheelwrights, and salaeratus makers: Those jobs might sound foreign to us today, but they were all common enough back in 1850 to merit a mention on Bureau of Labor Statistics’ first occupational classification list. Today, there’s not much demand for people who can make barrels, wooden wheels, or baking soda. But in the 19th century, there was a real need for workers with these skills.
The obsolete jobs of 100 or 200 years ago might seem bizarre to us now, but there’s a good chance your career could seem similarly weird to your grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Technological change and economic shifts gradually make certain occupations obsolete. Don’t believe us? Check out this list of threatened jobs. Some of these careers have already disappeared, while others are destined for the history books. Here are 15 jobs no one will remember in 20 years.
1. Video store clerks
The rise of the video store was swift, and its downfall came nearly as fast. In 1989, a few years after VCRs became affordable to many Americans, there were 30,000 video rental stores in the U.S. By 2014, there were 6,000. As the number of video stores shrinks, so does the number of jobs for clerks. In 1999, at the industry’s peak, there were nearly 170,000 video store employees. By 2016, there were just 12,500. Before long, most Americans will have no idea what it’s like to have a snobby film student clerk silently judging your Friday night film picks.
Next: Film processors
2. Film processor
Things are bad for video store clerks, but their industry is looking positively rosy compared to another once-common business: the one-hour photo store. In 2015, there were just 190 one-hour photo shops left in the entire U.S., down from 3,066 in 1998. That 94% drop over 15 years makes film drop-off stores the fastest-fading business in the U.S. You can blame the iPhone for their decline. As digital photography took hold, people no longer needed a place to develop their rolls of 35mm film.
Film processing isn’t gone entirely. About 29,000 people were still working in the industry in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though that number was expected to fall to 19,400 by 2024. With the inexorable shift away from film to digital, chances are good their numbers will decline even more in the next couple of decades.
Next: Elevator operators
3. Elevator operator
While technology is often blamed for destroying jobs, only one occupation since 1950 has been entirely eliminated due to automation, according to Quartz: elevator operators. Once a common sight in office and apartment buildings, these button-pushers are now a rare breed. A few still work in tony Manhattan high-rises, according to the New York Observer, and a handful of manually operated elevators are still in use in places, such as Chicago’s Fine Arts Building. But with a few exceptions, the elevator operator is obsolete.
Next: Toll collectors
4. Toll collector
Toll collectors are another job that’s been almost entirely eliminated due to technology. Road authorities once had to hire people to man the toll booths on roads and bridges. Now, automatic tolling systems, such as E-ZPass, mean workers are no longer needed to take cash from drivers and make change.
Of the 34 states that have toll roads, 23 have at least some electronic tolling, and six are in the process of going completely cashless, according to 2015 data from Pew Research. Four hundred toll collectors lost their jobs when the Massachusetts Turnpike moved to electronic tolling, while 28 toll collector jobs were eliminated when San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge removed its toll booths. As other states gradually update their toll facilities, toll collectors will eventually become a thing of the past.
Before refrigeration was commonplace, many people relied on the milkman for their daily dose of calcium. As late as 1963, close to 30% of American households were still greeting the milkman every morning, according to The New York Times, but by 2005, less than 0.5% of people in the U.S. were receiving milk deliveries.
The milkman isn’t totally extinct. People can still sign up for home milk delivery from companies, such as Oberweis Dairy in Illinois, but you’ll pay a premium over grocery store prices. With milk delivery likely to remain a niche service, fewer people will have memories of the milkman as the years pass.
Next: TV repairmen
6. TV repairman
TV repair shops were once a common sight in big cities and small towns across the U.S. Now, they’re hard to find. One reason? Televisions and other electronics have gotten much harder to fix, in part because of technological advances but also by design, according to Smithsonian. While some people are fighting for a “right to repair” that would make it easier for people to fix things on their own, it might be too late for the TV repairman to make a comeback, especially because buying a new TV is usually cheaper than paying someone to make the repairs.
Next: Film projectionists
7. Film projectionists
A shift to digital cinema has all but killed off film projectionists. Ninety percent of theaters have gotten rid of their old-school film projectors, according to Wired, which leaves little for traditional projectionists to do. Where once a projectionist had to sit in a booth and make sure everything was running smoothly, now all that’s required to show a movie is the press of a button. According to NPR, the system is so automated that at some theaters projectionists only show up once a week to set up that week’s slate of films. Film projection isn’t quite dead yet, with some films, such as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, getting 70mm screenings in certain theaters. But it’s now the exception, not the rule.
Next: Coal miner
8. Coal miner
Donald Trump has vowed to bring back the coal industry, but not everyone believes he’ll be able to keep that promise. Power plants are shifting from coal to other fuel sources, such as natural gas and solar, which means there’s less demand for the fossil fuel. And automation has eliminated jobs, too. Overall, the coal industry employs about 51,000 Americans today, down from 178,000 in 1985. While the industry has added some jobs since the 2016 election, the long-term outlook isn’t good. Even an industry CEO says mining jobs just aren’t coming back.
Being a nun isn’t really job, it’s a calling. That said, fewer women than ever are feeling the pull of the church. In 1966, there were roughly 181,000 nuns in the U.S. By 2014, there were fewer than 50,000, a 72.5% decline. The vast majority of Catholic sisters are over age 60, and just 3% are younger than 50. In Italy, the number of nuns is dropping so fast some fear they’ll disappear entirely by 2050.
Next: Watch repairers
10. Watch repairer
Watch repairers are yet another profession pushed to the brink of extinction by technological change. In 2011, 60% of people between ages 16 and 34 used their phone as their primary timepiece, according to a YouGov poll. With fewer people wearing watches, there’s less need for people who can repair the timepieces when they break. In 2014, 2,700 people worked as watch repairers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but that’s expected to decline to 2,000 by 2024. While there will probably still be a need for people who can fix luxury timepieces, in a couple of decades many people will have forgotten about this occupation.
Next: Telephone operators
11. Telephone operator
Back in the analog era of telecommunications, if you wanted to get a number for someone, you didn’t Google it. You called directory assistance and spoke to an operator. Operators can also help connect long-distance calls and provide services for disabled callers. But the number of telephone operators has been shrinking. In 2014, 13,100 people still had this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but that’s expected to decline to 7,500 by 2024. Compare that to 1984, when there were 40,000 telephone operators working for AT&T alone.
Next: Lighthouse keepers
12. Lighthouse keeper
Some professions on this list are nearly extinct, but others are dead already. Lighthouse keepers are in the latter category, at least in the United States. With the exception of the Boston Lighthouse, all lighthouses in the U.S. are automated, which means they have no need for a keeper, according to Lighthouse Digest magazine. To fulfill your lighthouse-keeping dreams, you’ll need to head abroad. Officials in Tasmania were recently looking for volunteers to staff a remote lighthouse six miles off the coast.
Next: Human computer
13. Human computer
If not for the Oscar-winning movie Hidden Figures, most people would probably already count human computers as a forgotten profession. The 2016 film put the spotlight on the women who were tasked performing mathematical equations that helped make space flight possible. Eventually, machine computing rendered their jobs obsolete but not before they made their mark on history.
Next: Meter maids
14. Parking enforcement worker
The Beatles may have sung about “Lovely Rita, meter maid,” but future generations of fans are likely going to be scratching their heads over that last part of that line. Parking enforcement workers — sometimes known as meter maids — are now a relatively rare sight on city streets. In 2014, there were 9,400, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in 2024 there will be just 7,400, a decline of 21%.
Next: Gas station attendants
15. Gas station attendant
On cold or rainy days, wouldn’t it be nice if you could just have someone pump your gas for you? Back in the day, you could have just gone to a full-service station and had an attendant fill up your tank. Now, full-service gas station attendants — who might also wash your windshield and check your tire pressure — are rare (except in New Jersey and Oregon, where laws on the books prohibit people from pumping their own gas). In fact, full service is so unusual now that customers are often befuddled when they pull into a station that has attendants, the Birmingham News reported.