Slate.com had an entertaining look at the sales jobs earlier this week in which it showed that the once-healthy profession has started to decline in recent years — after decades of intense growth.
What has changed? Here’s Slate’s take:
… the biggest culprit in killing off sales jobs is right in front of you: the Internet. There was a lot of talk in the dot-com era, mostly positive, about “disintermediation,” or creating direct connections between consumers and suppliers. Think of all the purchases you make today online that once would have been accompanied by a salesperson: a sweater, a book, a “compact disc,” a small appliance or piece of electronic equipment, shares of a stock or mutual fund, airline tickets, etc. Even in my own industry—media supported by advertising—some ad space can be booked online, as Slate writer Seth Stevenson demonstrated in a video earlier this year. The precise impact of Internet selling on sales jobs is hard to quantify, but it’s a big contributor and it’s irreversible.
The article flat-out misses a crucial point we wrote about a few months ago related to the financial sector: When analyzing occupation trends, it’s vital to determine how many jobs inside a profession are actually accounted for inside the most common employment dataset — the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
QCEW is a “comprehensive tabulation of employment and wage information for workers covered by State unemployment insurance (UI) laws and Federal workers covered by the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program.” But here’s the rub: Not all workers are covered by unemployment insurance — and this is certainly the case with sales jobs.
With companies trying to stay afloat — or increase profits — the past few years, the trend has been away from traditional employment and more to hiring independent contractors (i.e., those who file a 1099-Misc tax form and aren’t counted in QCEW because they’re not technically employees).
While QCEW does not capture independent contractors or proprietors, EMSI’s “complete employment” dataset does by using State and Local Area Personal Income and employment data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis as well as Non-Employer Statistics and County Business Patterns.
Using our complete dataset and our covered dataset (which essentially matches up with QCEW), we estimate that 41% of sales workers in the US — in 12 major sales occupations — are not covered by unemployment insurance. The occupations where this most applies are securities, commodities, and financial service sales agents (67%) and door-to-door sales workers, news and street vendors, and related workers (99.1%).
In those two occupations alone, that’s more than 1.4 million jobs in the workforce that aren’t showing up in the traditional employment charts. (See the chart below for the ratio for other sales jobs.)
You can clearly see that most sales worker positions covered by unemployment insurance have been in decline. You will also note that we did not include real estate brokers (SOC 41-9021) and sales agents (41-9022) into this chart. Only 5% of the estimated 3.9 million workers engaged in these occupations are covered by unemployment insurance. These occupations alone (in our complete dataset) accounted for an additional 1.5 million jobs in the US economy since 2002.
The key point here is that sales jobs (like other jobs) are not disappearing from the economy nearly as much as they are disappearing as traditional, “covered” employment — all the while, growing in numbers and size outside the spotlight of the usual employment datasets.