© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman works on her computer as the first phase of FMC Corporation employees return to work in the office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah Beier/File Photo

By Howard Schneider and Dan Burns

(Reuters) -Many of the fastest-growing occupations held by U.S. workers in the run-up to the pandemic, such as management, finance and transportation, gained even more ground in the first two years of the health crisis, government data released on Tuesday showed.

The Labor Department’s annual snapshot of occupations and what they pay also showed that a number of job categories that were already struggling to attract workers before the pandemic found those trends continued or accelerated in the chaotic job market that emerged following the brief but historic employment losses in the spring of 2020.

Indeed, the annual Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics report appears to show the pandemic was a trend-hastening event rather than a trend disrupter. A larger share of jobs reshuffled across occupations from 2016 to 2019 than was the case between 2019 and 2022, as the economy emerged from the pandemic.

Only a handful of the major occupation groups that had held steady or shown growth in their share of total employment from 2016 to 2019 flipped to losing share from 2019 to 2022. And all of those that had lost the most ground before the health crisis – office and administrative support jobs, sales roles and personal care-related services – eroded further in its aftermath.

The report is released each spring and provides a snapshot from the prior May of more than 800 occupations, showing how many people held those jobs and what each paid.

The data also shows the onset of the wage growth dynamics that increasingly have become a worry for the Federal Reserve in its fight to contain inflation. Across all occupations, average hourly wages rose by 15.7% between May 2019 and May 2022, roughly double the increase in the three years from May 2016 to May 2019.

The highest rates of increased wages occurred in the lowest-paying jobs after the pandemic struck.

In the food services sector, the only one of the nearly two dozen broad occupation categories with a median annual wage below $30,000, median pay rose by more than 26% between 2019 and 2022, roughly three times the pace of wage growth in the three years before the pandemic. Pay gains also accelerated notably for healthcare support occupations, another low-paying sector.

The smallest median pay increases in that span came for management occupations, where the median wage rose by just 2.6% versus 8.6% in the three years before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the occupational opportunities for those without at least a high school diploma continued to shrink: Just 21.9% of occupations required no formal education credential, the Labor Department said, down from 24% in 2019.

Some of the big occupation gainers reflect changes driven by the pandemic and other issues, such as the growth of the non-fossil fuel energy sector. The number of solar photovoltaic installers, for instance, rose 150% between 2019 and 2022, to about 27,000.

The number of private household cooks shot up 50% during a period marked by the shutdown and slow reopening of the dining-out sector. The number of epidemiologists climbed 27%.

On the flip side, there were far fewer movie projectionists, passenger attendants and barbers.

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