The Fastest-Growing Jobs and Where They're Most Common

Aging baby boomers and Americans' eating and technology habits will help drive large increases for some occupations over the next decade.
by | November 7, 2017
Personal care and home health aides are two of the fastest-growing occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. (Shutterstock)

As the economy continues to grow, a select group of occupations and regions are expected to win big over the next decade.

The Labor Department's latest projections show employment increasing about 7.4 percent nationally between 2016 and 2026, averaging about 0.7 percent annually. But several occupations are poised for much steeper growth -- more than three times the national rate for all jobs.

Regions where these jobs are more concentrated will likely receive a boost to their local economies.

Federal projections indicate many of the fastest-growing jobs are found in the health-care industry. Occupations tied to social services, computers and mathematics are also among those expected to expand sharply.

The following summaries detail occupations with the top projected job gains in raw numbers through 2026, as well as the metro areas where they're most prevalent.

 

Personal Care Aides

The health-care sector is slated to expand exponentially as baby boomers age. That's why personal care aids, who help the elderly or disabled with daily activities in nursing homes or private residences, are likely to see their profession grow rapidly.

The Labor Department estimates that employment for this typically low-wage occupation will increase from about 2 million to nearly 2.8 million nationwide by 2026, a 37 percent jump.

Labor Department estimates show these jobs are most concentrated in the Northeast, upper Midwest and Southwest. The following metro areas had the largest concentrations of personal care aides as measured by their location quotients. (Higher location quotients indicate an industry makes up a greater share of all jobs in an area, with a value of 1 meaning its local concentration is equal to that of the national economy.)

 

Metro Area Location Quotient Occupation Employment Employment per Thousand Jobs
Brownsville-Harlingen, TX 9.05 13,240 96.16
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 7.81 20,720 82.96
Laredo, TX 5.68 5,890 60.36
Mankato-North Mankato, MN 4.52 2,480 48.05
Las Cruces, NM 3.93 2,940 41.75
Alexandria, LA 3.54 2,300 37.67
Hammond, LA 3.52 1,560 37.42
Sherman-Denison, TX 3.48 1,600 37.03
Grants Pass, OR 3.16 810 33.61
Glens Falls, NY 3.07 1,680 32.67
SOURCE: May 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
 

Food Preparation and Serving Workers

This occupation, which includes most fast food workers, is already one of the largest in the country with a workforce of about 3.5 million Americans. Federal estimates project it will grow 17 percent over the decade, more than double the national rate for all jobs.

The Labor Department cites a growing number of Americans dining out or ordering food for delivery or take-out. More meal preparation jobs in grocery stores and nursing home facilities are also expected to contribute to an increase.

Every region has at least a fair number of food preparation and serving workers, but they’re most concentrated in the following smaller metro areas. (This industry does not include counter attendants, those who serve food at nonrestaurant establishments, bartender helpers and a few other smaller related occupations.)

 
Metro Area Location Quotient Occupation Employment Employment per Thousand Jobs
Jacksonville, NC 3.2 3,540 78.2
Burlington, NC 2.16 3,120 52.75
Bay City, MI 2.07 1,760 50.6
Fayetteville, NC 2.07 6,350 50.41
New Bern, NC 1.98 2,060 48.32
Greenville, NC 1.92 3,470 46.94
Homosassa Springs, FL 1.9 1,480 46.25
Hinesville, GA 1.83 750 44.77
Corpus Christi, TX 1.76 8,000 43.06
Parkersburg-Vienna, WV 1.76 1,650 42.95
SOURCE: May 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
 

Registered Nurses

Employment of registered nurses is expected to swell about 15 percent over the next decade, adding 437,000 additional workers.

The Labor Department attributes the projected increase to high rates of chronic conditions and greater demand for treatment as baby boomers age. More gains are expected in outpatient facilities as procedures once performed exclusively in hospitals become more common in physicians’ offices and other settings. The occupation, with a median annual wage exceeding $68,000, tends to pay better than most other fast-growing health-care jobs.

The following metro areas recorded the highest location quotients for registered nurses:

 
Metro Area Location Quotient Occupation Employment Employment per Thousand Jobs
Bloomsburg-Berwick, PA 3.68 3,160 74.84
Rochester, MN 3.57 8,330 72.63
Greenville, NC 2.48 3,730 50.45
Morgantown, WV 2.33 3,030 47.39
Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 2.19 13,070 44.65
Gainesville, FL 2.02 5,260 41.18
Rome, GA 1.93 1,430 39.26
Sioux Falls, SD 1.93 5,860 39.24
La Crosse-Onalaska, WI-MN 1.92 2,840 39.16
Iowa City, IA 1.88 3,470 38.24
SOURCE: May 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
 

Home Health Aides

Demand for home health aides is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, even more so than other health occupations. The Labor Department projects 426,000 new jobs by 2026, a gain of nearly 47 percent.

It cites an increasing reliance on home-based care as an alternative to nursing homes or hospitals as one reason the occupation will be in high demand. These typically low-wage workers perform a range of different health services, while personal care aides usually don’t provide medical care.

Not surprisingly, states and regions with older populations have higher concentrations of these workers.

 
Metro Area Location Quotient Occupation Employment Employment per Thousand Jobs
Brownsville-Harlingen, TX 7.01 5,600 40.66
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 5.78 8,370 33.51
New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division 4.18 159,830 24.27
Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead, MA NECTA Division 3.87 960 22.44
Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, MA NECTA Division 3.51 1,600 20.35
Lawrence-Methuen Town-Salem, MA-NH NECTA Division 3.4 1,570 19.73
Peabody-Salem-Beverly, MA NECTA Division 3.38 1,860 19.59
New Bern, NC 2.88 710 16.73
Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC 2.88 2,480 16.68
Pueblo, CO 2.7 900 15.68
SOURCE: May 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
 

Application Software Developers

Most jobs tied to software or computer systems will continue to be in high demand. Strong growth is especially expected for those working on application software development. About 253,000 additional jobs are projected over the decade, an increase of 30 percent.

The Labor Department attributes the increase, in part, to greater use of apps on smartphones and tablets. More future products using software, along with investments in cybersecurity, could also help propel the numbers higher.

Application software developers are among the few fast-growing occupations with six-figure salaries. The median annual wage was $100,080 as of May of last year.

Silicon Valley and other tech-heavy regions employ large concentrations of these workers.

 
Metro Area Location Quotient Occupation Employment Employment per Thousand Jobs
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 7.02 41,490 39.69
Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA Metropolitan Division 5.07 45,500 28.64
Boulder, CO 4.56 4,540 25.78
San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division 4.35 26,250 24.6
Framingham, MA NECTA Division 3.84 3,790 21.71
Trenton, NJ 3.6 4,600 20.37
Madison, WI 3.49 7,540 19.74
Nashua, NH-MA NECTA Division 2.57 1,880 14.52
Raleigh, NC 2.56 8,610 14.46
Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, MA-NH NECTA Division 2.53 2,160 14.3
SOURCE: May 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
 

Occupations Growing at Fastest Rates

Several mostly smaller occupations are expected to grow at faster rates in terms of percentages. The Labor Department projects the following to register the 25 largest percentage increases in jobs through 2026:

 

About the data

Projected growth rates cover the 2016-2026 period. The Bureau of Labor Statistics only publishes national estimates and does not issue projections for metro regions, although some state labor departments publish this information for local areas. Definitions and additional information about each occupation can be found on the O*NET website. The following occupations were cited in this report: personal care aides (39-9021), combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food (35-3021), registered nurses (29-1141), home health aides (31-1011) and software developers, applications (15-1132)