Employment by industry, 1910 and 2015

March 03, 2016

The life of American workers in 1915 discusses population, labor force, job, and wage characteristics, as well as the food workers ate, the homes they lived in, and how they traveled to work a century ago. It is one of several articles marking the 100th anniversary of the Monthly Labor Review

Nonfarm employment, by major industry, 1910 and 2015, using 1910 industry classifications
Industry 1910 2015
   Employment    Percent of total    Employment    Percent of total

Forestry and fisheries(1)

250,000 1.0 52,000 0.0


1,050,000 4.1 767,700 0.5


8,230,000 32.4 12,317,000 8.7


2,300,000 9.1 6,446,000 4.5

Transportation and public utilities

3,190,000 12.6 5,403,500 3.8

Wholesale and retail trade(2)

3,370,000 13.3 32,560,700 23.0

Finance and real estate

520,000 2.0 8,124,000 5.7

Educational services

900,000 3.5 13,723,900 9.7

Other professional services(3)

770,000 3.0 41,011,800 28.9

Domestic service

2,150,000 8.5

Personal service(4)

1,520,000 6.0 1,402,100 1.0

Government not elsewhere classified(5)

540,000 2.1 11,747,800 8.3


600,000 2.3 8,306,500 5.9

(1) For 2015, logging employment.

(2) For 2015, food services and drinking places have been included in the “wholesale and retail trade” category.

(3) For 2015, the “other professional services” category includes information services, professional and business services, and health care and social assistance.

(4) For 2015, the “personal service” category is personal and laundry services.

(5) The 1910 data source is not completely clear, but it appears that the 1910 government employment number does not include employment at government-owned educational establishments such as public schools and universities. To improve comparability, the 2015 government number is the sum of federal government, state government excluding education, and local government excluding education. State and local government education employment is included in educational services.

(6) For 2015, the “other” category includes leisure and hospitality (except for food services and drinking places), repair and maintenance, and membership associations and organizations.

Note: Data for 1910 are from Historical statistics of the United States, colonial times to 1957, series D 57–71 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1960), p. 74. These data are based on monographs (see pp. 68–69) that were prepared mainly with data from the decennial censuses and are not strictly comparable with the 2015 data series. Data for 2015 are preliminary 2015 annual average estimates from the establishment survey (Current Employment Statistics survey) of employees on nonfarm payrolls.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau.

Comprehensive data by industry do not exist for 1915, but we have information for 1910 from the decennial census. Data from the 1910 Census show that 32 percent of nonfarm jobs were in manufacturing; in 2015, manufacturing accounted for less than 9 percent of total nonfarm employment. The number of people employed in manufacturing was 8 million in 1910 and 12 million in 2015. While employment in manufacturing grew over the past 100 years, employment in other industries grew more.

Transportation and public utilities also declined in percentage terms over the last century, from 13 percent in 1910 to 4 percent in 2015. The number of people employed in transportation and public utilities was 3 million in 1910 and 6 million in 2015.

From 1910 to 2015, employment in mining and the percentage of total employment in mining both decreased. In 1910 there were 1 million people employed in mining, accounting for 4 percent of nonfarm employment; in 2015, the number employed was 25 percent lower than in 1910 and less than 1 percent of total 2015 employment.

Domestic service, such as maids and cooks in private households, accounted for about 9 percent of nonfarm employment in 1915; comparable data for recent years are not available.

Employment in wholesale and retail trade, including eating and drinking places, increased from 3 million (or 13 percent of nonfarm employment) in 1910 to 33 million (23 percent) in 2015.

Far fewer people worked in professional services in 1910. Today’s economy includes professional services related to computers and electronics that didn’t exist a century ago. Fewer than 1 million workers were employed in professional services, accounting for 3 percent of nonfarm employment in 1910. In 2015, 41 million people were employed in professional services, 29 percent of the nonfarm total.

Data for 2015 are from the Current Employment Statistics survey of employees on nonfarm payrolls and are preliminary annual average estimates.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Employment by industry, 1910 and 2015 on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/employment-by-industry-1910-and-2015.htm (visited January 22, 2018).


Recent editions of Spotlight on Statistics