Fact Sheet 2019
For a PDF version of this fact sheet, click here.
While the professional and technical workforce can be hard to define, there is widespread agreement that professionals are playing a greater part in our economy than ever before. Over the past few decades, the increase in the number of professionals has created interest in analysis of professionals and the unique issues they face in the workplace. While professional jobs are diverse, professionals often have a strong occupational identity, advanced education and training, and above average compensation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines the professional workforce as including all workers in the “management, professional, and related occupations” group. The BLS goes on to divide this broad category into 10 distinct occupation groups. These groups, and the number of people working in them in 2018 are:
- Management occupations (18,263,000);
- Business and financial operations occupations (7,587,000);
- Computer and mathematical occupations (5,126,000);
- Architecture and engineering occupations (3,263,000);
- Life, physical, and social science occupations (1,529,000);
- Community and social service occupations (2,680,000);
- Legal occupations (1,891,000);
- Education, training, and library occupations (9,313,000);
- Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations (3,362,000); and
- Healthcare practitioner and technical occupations (9,420,000).[i]
In total, there were 64,230,000 professionals working in these occupations in 2018, representing 41.2% of the total U.S. workforce.
However, a number of professionals are employed in occupations that are not included in the BLS classification of “management, professional and related occupations,” due to the way the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system was constructed. For example, the “sales and office occupations” group includes many professionals who are well-educated and may be well-compensated, including securities, commodities and financial services sales agents and accounting clerks. The same is true in nearly every other occupational group, including firefighters and fire inspectors in the protective service occupations group and aircraft pilots and flight engineers in the transportation occupations group.
Therefore, the second way to identify who is a professional is through educational attainment. This method for identifying professionals also has flaws, since it would also count those who are underemployed in occupations that would not be considered to be part of the professional or technical workforce. However, given the fluidity of professional identity, the increasing use of technological tools in various occupations, and absent other methods to count ALL professionals, this fact sheet counts employees in all occupation groups as professionals if they have at least an associate’s degree in an academic program. Thus, professional employment outside of the professional occupation groups in 2018 totaled 28,186,000, including:
- Healthcare support occupations (1,370,000);
- Protective service occupations (1,504,000);
- Food preparation and serving related occupations (1,511,000);
- Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations (881,000);
- Personal care and service occupations (2,016,000);
- Sales and related occupations (6,824,000);
- Office and administrative support occupations (7,080,000);
- Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (158,000);
- Construction and extraction occupations (1,527,000);
- Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations (1,446,000);
- Production occupations (1,839,000); and
- Transportation and material moving occupations (2,028,000).[ii]
Using these two methods, we can count over 92 million professionals working in the U.S. in 2018, making up 59.4 percent of the total workforce.[iii]
The third and final definition of a professional includes all working people who self-identify as professionals. However, as this definition is not quantifiable, it will not be included in this factsheet.
Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Makeup
As seen in the chart below, except for Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, racial and ethnic minorities were underrepresented in the professional and technical workforce in 2018.[iv]
While women made up 46.7 percent of the total workforce, they represented 50.5 percent of all professionals in 2018. However, women are not distributed equally across all professional occupations. They are overrepresented by more than 10 percent in 7 out of 22 occupational groups and are underrepresented by more than 10 percent in 9 out of 22 occupational groups.[v]
|Occupation Group||2018 Percentage Women||2003 Percentage Women|
|Business and Financial Operations||54.0%||55.4%|
|Computer and Mathematical Science||25.7%||28.6%|
|Architecture and Engineering||16.0%||14.4%|
|Life, Physical, and Social Science||46.9%||43.1%|
|Community and Social Service||66.4%||60.6%|
|Education, Training, and Library||73.4%||73.8%|
|Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media||46.9%||47.3%|
|Healthcare Practitioner and Technical||75.1%||73.8%|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related||57.1%||54.2%|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance||36.2%||36.0%|
|Personal Care and Service||74.6%||74.8%|
|Sales and Related||44.1%||38.9%|
|Office and Administrative Support||73.1%||74.4%|
|Farming, Fishing, and Forestry||31.0%||22.1%|
|Construction and Extraction||5.3%||4.5%|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair||5.1%||5.2%|
|Transportation and Material Moving||19.4%||12.9%|
Black and African American Professionals
In 2018, there were approximately 9.83 million Black professionals employed in the U.S. This is up from 6.1 million in 2003 and represents a positive 1.9 percent change in density (from 8.7 percent density in 2003 to 10.6 percent in 2018).[vi] Out of the 22 BLS occupation groups noted above, Black professionals were overrepresented by more than two percent in five occupation groups and underrepresented by more than two percent in ten groups, when compared to the total workforce, which is 11.9% Black.[vii]
|Occupation Group||2018 Percentage Black||2003 Percentage Black|
|Business and Financial Operations||9.9%||9.4%|
|Computer and Mathematical Science||8.5%||8.2%|
|Architecture and Engineering||6.6%||4.4%|
|Life, Physical, and Social Science||7.2%||6.4%|
|Community and Social Service||20.4%||19.1%|
|Education, Training, and Library||10.7%||10.0%|
|Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media||7.5%||6.5%|
|Healthcare Practitioner and Technical||12.6%||10.2%|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related||13.3%||7.3%|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance||10.2%||9.7%|
|Personal Care and Service||14.4%||10.6%|
|Sales and Related||8.8%||5.7%|
|Office and Administrative Support||13.6%||12.4%|
|Farming, Fishing, and Forestry||2.2%||1.4%|
|Construction and Extraction||7.9%||5.8%|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair||11.4%||8.2%|
|Transportation and Material Moving||19.5%||14.3%|
In 2018, there were over 10 million Latino professionals in the workforce. This is up from 4.7 million Hispanic and Latino professionals in 2003, a 114 percent increase. Overall, Latino professionals have gone from 6.7 percent density in professional occupations in 2003 to 10.9 percent in 2018. However, they continue to be underrepresented in almost all professional occupations as the total workforce is 17.5 percent Latino.[viii]
Of the Latino professional workforce in 2018, 63.7 percent were native-born U.S. citizens, 19.4 percent were U.S. citizens by naturalization, and 16.1 percent were not U.S. citizens (this includes workers employed on work visas, those waiting for citizenship, and the undocumented).[ix]
|Occupation Group||2018 Percentage Hispanic or Latino, of any race||2003 Percentage Hispanic or Latino, of any race|
|Business and Financial Operations||8.9%||6.3%|
|Computer and Mathematical Science||7.6%||5.6%|
|Architecture and Engineering||8.9%||5.2%|
|Life, Physical, and Social Science||8.9%||5.9%|
|Community and Social Service||12.2%||8.4%|
|Education, Training, and Library||10.8%||7.2%|
|Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media||12.0%||7.8%|
|Healthcare Practitioner and Technical||8.7%||4.9%|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related||17.0%||11.9%|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance||25.2%||15.5%|
|Personal Care and Service||12.8%||7.0%|
|Sales and Related||10.2%||5.7%|
|Office and Administrative Support||12.7%||7.3%|
|Farming, Fishing, and Forestry||17.2%||11.4%|
|Construction and Extraction||17.5%||11.1%|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair||13.5%||10.4%|
|Transportation and Material Moving||14.0%||10.5%|
Asian-American and Pacific Islander Professionals
In 2018, professionals who identified as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) made up 8.2 percent of the total professional workforce and 7.1 percent of the total U.S. workforce, and there are large and growing concentrations of AAPI professionals in several occupational groups representing jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.[x] AAPI professionals were significantly underrepresented in many other occupation groups, including legal occupations, education, training and library occupations, community and social service occupations, protective service occupations, construction and extraction occupations, and installation, maintenance and repair occupations.[xi]
The AAPI professional workforce comes from a variety of backgrounds and hold different immigration statuses. In 2018, 30.5 percent were native-born citizens, 40.5 percent were U.S. citizens by naturalization, and 29 percent were not U.S. citizens (this includes workers employed on work visas, those waiting for citizenship, and the undocumented).[xii] Citizenship status is often a concern for immigrant and US-born professionals alike, as employers have greater control over non-citizen employees, resulting in reduced bargaining power and job mobility.
In 2018, professionals of Indian descent made up 27.6 percent of all U.S. Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals in 2018. They were followed closely by professionals of Chinese descent, at 22.3 percent and professionals of Filipino descent at 14.3 percent.[xiii]
|Occupation Group||2018 Percentage Asian-American or Pacific Islander||2003 Percentage Asian-American or Pacific Islander|
|Business and Financial Operations||9.3%||6.0%|
|Computer and Mathematical Science||22.1%||13.3%|
|Architecture and Engineering||12.2%||9.0%|
|Life, Physical, and Social Science||13.0%||10.3%|
|Community and Social Service||4.4%||3.4%|
|Education, Training, and Library||5.5%||3.5%|
|Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media||5.8%||4.8%|
|Healthcare Practitioner and Technical||10.0%||7.6%|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related||10.5%||9.2%|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance||5.3%||5.7%|
|Personal Care and Service||9.0%||6.5%|
|Sales and Related||7.1%||5.9%|
|Office and Administrative Support||7.4%||6.5%|
|Farming, Fishing, and Forestry||5.5%||4.2%|
|Construction and Extraction||2.7%||2.6%|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair||5.1%||4.6%|
|Transportation and Material Moving||8.0%||4.6%|
In 2018, out of the 92.3 million working professionals, 60.5 million (65.6 percent) had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Life, physical, and social science occupations had the highest concentration of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 86.6 percent, followed by legal occupations at 82 percent. Among BLS-designated professional occupations, management occupations had the lowest concentration of professionals with at least a bachelor’s degree, 57 percent.[xiv]
Certain occupational groups also have high concentrations of professionals with master’s, professional and doctorate degrees, due to the education requirements of jobs within those categories or the advancement opportunities available to professionals with advanced degrees. For example, in 43 states, lawyers must earn a law degree from an accredited law school in order to practice, and earning a Juris Doctor is the most straightforward path to becoming an attorney even in states where it is not required in order to pass the bar.[xv] Additionally, while master’s degrees are not required of K-12 teachers in any state, some states do require teachers to earn a master’s degree within several years of starting their teaching careers in order to renew their teaching certificates or obtain optional advanced professional licenses, and the vast majority of school districts offer significant pay incentives to teachers who earn master’s degrees.[xvi] Other occupations with similar requirements or incentives include doctors and other medical professionals, post-secondary educators, social workers, scientists, and others.
In 2018 there were approximately 72.5 million Baby Boomers (aged 55-74 in 2018) in the U.S. and another 20.9 million Americans older than 75 (“the Greatest Generation”). Over 37 million people 55 or older were still in the workforce and among those, nearly 21 million were in the professional workforce.
Older professionals are disproportionately represented in management occupations, legal occupations, and in cleaning and maintenance occupations. They are severely underrepresented in computer and math occupations, healthcare support occupations, and food preparation and serving occupations.[xvii] Older Americans are also underrepresented in protective service occupations, though this can be explained by the presence of mandatory retirement ages for law enforcement officers and firefighters in many states and the robust pension plans that are often negotiated by their unions.[xviii]
Baby Boomers are waiting longer than previous generations to leave the labor force. A 2018 Gallup survey showed that working Americans expect, on average, to retire at 66, two years later than they reported 15 years ago. And Baby Boomers, who may have a more realistic picture of their retirement savings needs, expect to work even longer than the rest of the population does, reporting an average expectation to stop working at age 67.[xix]
The drive for Baby Boomers to work longer than previous generations is a result of a multitude of factors, including longer life expectancies and rising healthcare and long-term care costs, which increases the need for substantial retirement savings. And with the shift from employer-sponsored defined-benefit pension plans to defined-contribution 401(k)-type plans, Baby Boomers are the first generation who have had to save substantially for their own retirements. However, most Boomers have inadequate retirement savings, with a median household retirement account balance of $164,000.[xx]
In 2018, there were just over 28 million professionals between the ages of 18 and 34. These young professionals represent 30.4 percent of the professional workforce as a whole and 50.4 percent of the total 18-34 workforce.[xxi] Young professionals are overrepresented in computer and math occupations (37.1 percent), life, physical and social science occupations (37.8 percent), arts, design, entertainment, sports and media occupations (38.2 percent), healthcare support occupations (40 percent), food preparation and serving occupations (54 percent), and farming, fishing and forestry occupations (36.3 percent). They are underrepresented in management occupations (21.3 percent), legal occupations (22.6 percent), and building and grounds cleaning occupations (24.6 percent).
The extremely high concentration of 18-34 year olds with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees outside of the BLS-designated professional occupation groups is a sign of a labor market problem that has persisted since the great recession, when college graduates who could not find positions in their chosen fields were forced to accept lower-paying jobs in other, lower-paying occupations. This problem of underemployment can be hard to measure, though one calculation found that 34 percent of college graduates were underemployed as of December 2018, and that recent graduates were even more likely to experience underemployment (41.4 percent).[xxii]
For many young professionals, entry into the professional workforce requires a post-secondary degree, leading increasing percentages of young people to seek out higher education. In the 2016-2017 academic year, institutions of higher education conferred 1 million associate’s degrees, 2 million bachelor’s degrees, 805,000 master’s degrees, and 181,000 doctorates’.[xxiii] In 2003, 28.6 percent of 18-34 year olds had an associate’s, bachelor’s, or higher degree, but by 2018 this number had risen to 37.1 percent.[xxiv] While more education can translate into higher lifetime earnings, it also results in higher levels of student loan debt, especially when considering the rapidly rising cost of education. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York calculated that the total amount of outstanding student loan debt rose to $1.46 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2018.[xxv] Sixty-nine percent of the class of 2018 took out student loans to finance their education, graduating with an average debt of $29,800.[xxvi]
While it is often associated with recent graduates, student loan debt is not limited to the young. In 2017, 3.2 million people above the age of 60 and 5.2 million between the ages of 50-59 had outstanding student loan balances, either from their own educations or that of their children or other family members.[xxvii]
Union density varies widely depending on the particular occupation group. In 2018, there were 14.7 million union members in the United States, representing a density of 10.5 percent. There were 6.18 million union members working in BLS-designated professional occupations (11.2 percent density), and 8.9 million total union professionals across all occupations (also 11.2 percent density). While union density in professional occupations has decreased over time, the overall number of professional union members has increased by almost 1.5 million over the last 20 years, and professionals now make up 41.9 percent of all union members, a 13 percent increase in share over 20 years.[xxviii]
Professionals’ Union Density [xxix]
Business and financial operations occupations
Computer and mathematical science occupations
Architecture and engineering occupations
Life, physical, and social service occupations
Community and social service occupations
Education, training, and library occupations
Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations
Healthcare practitioner and technical occupations
Healthcare support occupations
Protective service occupations
Food preparation and serving related occupations
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations
Personal care and service occupations
Sales and related occupations
Office and administrative support occupations
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations
Construction and extraction occupations
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations
Transportation and material moving occupations
Wages, Hours, and Benefits
As of the 1st quarter of 2019, the median weekly salary for full-time workers in management, professional, and related occupations was $1,285, while the median for all full-time employees was $898.[xxx] Professionals working in non-professional occupation groups earned significantly less, averaging $781 per week in March 2019.[xxxi]
However, professionals’ weekly earnings vary greatly among education levels and occupational classifications. For example, computer and mathematical science occupations have the highest median weekly earnings among professional occupations at $1,631.50 while those working in community and social science occupations have the lowest median weekly earnings at $886.60.[xxxii]
Among those working in professional occupations, education attainment pays. While professionals with an associate’s degree earn a median weekly income of $987.2, those with a bachelor’s degree earn $1,406.20, those with a master’s degree earn $1,575.40, professional degree holders earn $1,934.70 and doctorate degree holders earn $1,840.30.[xxxiii]
Nearly 75 percent of the professional workforce was employed full-time in 2018.[xxxiv]
While progress has been made on some fronts, pay disparities continue to persist for women and people of color, especially in professional occupations. While the overall pay gap between men and women was 81 percent in 2018, women only made 73 percent of what men made in professional occupations in the same year. The professional occupational group with the largest wage gap was the legal occupations group, where women only made 65 percent of what men made. Community and social service occupations (the lowest paying professional occupation group) had the smallest pay gap, at 90 percent.[xxxv]
In 2017, the pay disparity for African-American professionals (78.2 percent) was worse than the disparities faced by African-Americans outside of professional occupations, including in service occupations (89.1 percent), sales and office occupations (84 percent), natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations (89.6 percent) and production, transportation and material moving occupations (84.5 percent). For Latino professionals, their pay gap (82.9 percent), was much closer to, and in one case, better than, the gaps faced by Latinos in other occupations, including service occupations (89.9 percent), sales and office occupations (85.2 percent), natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations (81.6 percent) and production, transportation and material moving occupations (83.1 percent).[xxxvi]
Health Insurance and Retirement Benefits
In March 2018, 91.3 percent of professionals were covered by health insurance provided through their employer or union, with union members having a five percent higher rate of coverage than nonmembers (95.8 percent versus 90.7 percent). Of those covered, union professionals were also more likely to have all (25.9 percent) or part (71.3 percent) of their premiums covered by their employer, compared to non-union professionals (16.3 percent and 78.5 percent, respectively). Overall, 16 percent of professionals have their health insurance premiums covered in full.[xxxvii]
Additionally, professional union members are much more likely to be covered by and participate in employer or union sponsored retirement plans. In March 2018, 75.8 percent of union professionals were eligible for an employer or union sponsored retirement plan and 93.1 percent of those eligible participated. In contrast, only 50.4 percent of non-union professionals were even eligible for a workplace retirement plan and 81.7 percent of them participated.[xxxviii]
The unemployment rate for all professionals was 2.3 percent in May 2019. (2.03 million unemployed), while the unemployment rate among the entire U.S. population was 3.4 percent in the same month.[xxxix] Note that the core unemployment rate does not count those who are underemployed and have more education, skills and training than their positions require.
For more information on professional and technical workers, check DPE’s website: www.dpeaflcio.org.
The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) comprises 24 national unions representing over four million people working in professional and technical occupations. DPE’s affiliates represent teachers, physicians, engineers, computer scientists, psychologists, nurses, university professors, actors, technicians, and others in more than 200 professional occupations.
DPE Research Department
815 16th Street, N.W., 6th Floor
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 638-0320 extension 114
[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Table 11. Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, 2018. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm
[ii] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Basic Monthly Microdata, January – December 2018.
[iv] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Basic Monthly Microdata, January – December 2018.
[vi] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Basic Monthly Microdata, January – December 2018 and January – December 2003.
[xiv] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Basic Monthly Microdata, January – December 2018.
[xv] Adwar, Corey. “How to become a lawyer without a law degree.” Slate. August 2 2014. Retrieved from https://slate.com/business/2014/08/states-that-allow-bar-exams-without-law-degrees-require-apprenticeships-instead-of-law-school.html
[xvi] 2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. National Council on Teacher Quality. January 2012. Retrieved from https://www.nctq.org/publications/2011-State-Teacher-Policy-Yearbook:-National-Summary.
[xviii] State retirement plans for public safety workers. National Conference of State Legislatures. August 24, 2012. Retrived from http://www.ncsl.org/research/fiscal-policy/state-retirement-plans-public-safety-tables.aspx
[xix] Newport, Frank. “Snapshot: Average American Predicts Retirement Age of 66.” Gallup. May 10, 2018.
[xx] “Wishful Thinking or Within Reach? Three Generations Prepare for Retirement” Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. December 2017. Retrieved form https://www.transamericacenter.org/docs/default-source/retirement-survey-of-workers/tcrs2017_sr_three-generations_prepare_for_retirement.pdf
[xxi] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Basic Monthly Microdata, January – December 2018.
[xxii] “The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates.” Federal Reserve Bank of New York. May 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.newyorkfed.org/research/college-labor-market/college-labor-market_underemployment_rates.html
[xxiii] “Digest of Education Statistics” National Center for Education Statistics. August 2018. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/current_tables.asp
[xxiv]U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Basic Monthly Microdata, January – December 2018 and January – December 2003.
[xxv] “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit.” Center for Microeconomic Data. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. February 2019. Retrieved from https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/interactives/householdcredit/data/pdf/hhdc_2018q4.pdf
[xxvi] “A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2019.” Student Loan Hero. February 4, 2019. Retrieved from https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/
[xxvii] “2018 Student Loan Update” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel / Equifax. Retrieved from https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/interactives/householdcredit/data/xls/sl_update_2018.xlsx
[xxviii] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Basic Monthly Microdata, January-December 2018.
[xxxi] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Basic Monthly Microdata, March 2019.
[xxxvi] Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2017. August 2018. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/race-and-ethnicity/2017/home.htm
[xxxvii] U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, March 2018.