The Worrying Decline of Executive Assistant Jobs in America

Job losses on par with manufacturing, but far fewer people have noticed

Executive Assistant
The number of executive and administrative assistant jobs has been in decline as of late, earning parallels to the loss of manufacturing jobs in the USA.
Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

Most of the discussion surrounding lost jobs in the United States tends to focus on the decline of manufacturing roles — it’s something that politicians, public intellectuals and journalists discuss frequently. And that’s understandable: manufacturing jobs were once a way for people, especially those who hadn’t necessarily gone to college, to obtain steady middle-class employment.

But a new article by Rachel Feintzeig at The Wall Street Journal makes a convincing argument that another industry has been similarly decimated by shifts in the economy and in the way workplaces are structured. More specifically, it has to do with administrative and executive assistants, and how a job that was traditionally a way for women without a college education to make a comfortable living is gradually ceasing to exist.

The statistics Feintzeig cites are alarming for anyone concerned about the future of labor in the United States:

More than 1.6 million secretarial and administrative-assistant jobs have vanished since 2000, according to federal data, an almost 40% decline, comparable to that in manufacturing.

She notes that executive assistants, who could traditionally earn salaries in the six-figure range, have been particularly hard-hit by this shift in roles. 

Among the reasons for this decline in a once-thriving job sector: the rise of open-plan offices, a generation of executives who are fine booking their own travel and a corporate culture focused on cutting costs wherever possible. 

Feintzeig cites a model used by Ernst & Young, among other companies, where the workers replacing traditional executive assistants “are often younger with college degrees; some make half as much money while supporting more executives.”

When people who have long been able to work good jobs for good pay suddenly find themselves struggling to find new work, it’s treated as a cause for alarm. Feintzeig’s article makes a good case for the plight of executive assistants as something more people should be concerned about. 

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