With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact the global economy, the current job market is a hot topic in the news cycle. But while the pandemic itself is, historically, something of an economic aberration, the U.S. economy that we know today has a long and storied history of expansions, recessions, and evolution.
At the time of the American Revolution, most of the job market in the U.S. revolved around agriculture or food acquisition in some way. Many individuals and communities farmed for subsistence, not even growing enough to have an excess to sell for profits. As the fledgling country grew, so did its economy, springing forth during the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s and early 1800s, and inexorably shifting the nation’s economic focus from agrarian efforts to those of manufacturing, trade, and other forms of business. Inventions like the steam engine and cotton gin accelerated production, feeding a booming job market that was met with immigrants eager to find work.
By the mid- to late-1800s, the U.S. economy and job market was characterized by successive periods of rapid growth followed by panics or depressions. This economic disquiet was caused by stock speculation and oscillating levels of trust in the federal government’s ability to regulate cash flow and support banks. In turn, the uncertain economy produced a volatile job market.
In an effort to capture a snapshot of the U.S. job market’s history, Stacker compiled a list of the most common jobs in Illinois from 150 years ago using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. By transcribing the previously untranscribed Table XXVII from the 1870 decennial census, a state-level glimpse into the historic job market can be seen. Nationally, farmers and planters were the most common occupation 150 years ago, just one of the many agricultural jobs that made up more than 47% of all employed persons over ten years old.
#1. Farmers and planters
– Illinois employment: 240,256
– National employment: 2,977,711
— #1 most common job in the U.S.
#2. Agricultural laborers
– Illinois employment: 133,649
– National employment: 2,885,996
— #2 most common job in the U.S.
#3. Laborers (not specified)
– Illinois employment: 63,130
– National employment: 1,031,666
— #3 most common job in the U.S.
#4. Domestic servants
– Illinois employment: 44,903
– National employment: 975,734
— #4 most common job in the U.S.
#5. Carpenters and joiners
– Illinois employment: 23,040
– National employment: 344,596
— #5 most common job in the U.S.
#6. Employees of railroad companies (not clerks)
– Illinois employment: 14,946
– National employment: 154,027
— #9 most common job in the U.S.
#7. Clerks in stores
– Illinois employment: 13,980
– National employment: 222,504
— #6 most common job in the U.S.
– Illinois employment: 9,412
– National employment: 141,774
— #11 most common job in the U.S.
#9. Teachers (not specified)
– Illinois employment: 8,869
– National employment: 126,822
— #12 most common job in the U.S.
#10. Tailors, tailoresses, and seamstresses
– Illinois employment: 7,919
– National employment: 161,820
— #8 most common job in the U.S.
#11. Draymen, hackmen, teamsters, &c
– Illinois employment: 7,879
– National employment: 120,756
— #13 most common job in the U.S.
– Illinois employment: 6,954
– National employment: 152,107
— #10 most common job in the U.S.
#13. Painters and varnishers
– Illinois employment: 6,294
– National employment: 85,123
— #18 most common job in the U.S.
#14. Boot and shoe makers
– Illinois employment: 6,279
– National employment: 171,127
— #7 most common job in the U.S.
#15. Traders and dealers (not specified)
– Illinois employment: 6,172
– National employment: 100,406
— #15 most common job in the U.S.