The dictionary defines blue-collar workers as wage earners whose jobs are performed in work clothes and often involve manual labor. That sounds about right, but how many people fit that description? For the sake of this discussion, a good blue-collar job is one that is performed by a person whose level of educational attainment is less than a bachelor’s degree.

The good news is that there are more than 30 million jobs in the U.S. that pay an average of $55,000 and a minimum of $35,000 annually that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree. But you have to know where to look to be able to find them. They tend to be concentrated in a few specific industries and geographic areas.

Recap of blue-collar job growth by industry

These fields, between 1991 and 2015, added a significant number of good jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree:

  • There is a wide range of public-sector government services jobs that don’t require a degree. This sector added 70,000 jobs, a 4 percent increase.
  • Wholesale and retail trade [retail buyers, warehouse and delivery, and manufacturing sales representative] also grew 4 percent with 130,000 new jobs added.
  • Financial and business service sector jobs [insurance agent, bookkeeping, financial clerk and collections] grew by 35 percent with 980,000 new jobs added
  • Education services [teacher aides/assistants and preschool teachers] grew 46 percent, an increase of 260,000 new jobs
  • The construction sector added 1,250,000 new jobs, up 56 percent.
  • Natural resources jobs [oil and gas and mining] grew by 61 percent with 310,000 added.
  • The hospitality and personal services industry grew by 67 percent, adding 1,380,000 new jobs, and
  • Healthcare jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree were up 70 percent with 1,330,000 new jobs.

A second study tracked growth by region. Blue-collar job growth hasn’t been shared equally. The metropolitan areas with the highest growth rates were Houston, Oklahoma City, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Nashville.

Dixie leads the way.

The Houston metro area is the big winner when it comes to the creation of high-wage blue-collar work, followed closely by Oklahoma City. Both markets benefitted from the resurgent energy industry. They also saw gains in advanced manufacturing, trade and transport and construction jobs. Austin was sixth on the top-cities list and Dallas was tenth for the same reasons.

Put away the oil can tin man. It’s a rust belt revival.

Detroit and Grand rapids also saw solid growth in good blue-collar jobs. The region, whose fortunes have always been tied to the manufacturing industry, is taking advantage of the recovery in the auto industry where production has pre-recession levels, and automakers are investing in new plants that employ workers who practice their trades in spotless environments, doing work that requires decision-making and computer skills.

A Surge In The Near West

The Intermountain West also continues to create manufacturing and trade jobs at a rapid rate. This region’s blue-collar star is Salt Lake City, which places seventh on the list, led by a strong expansion in energy sector employment and trade and transport, with decent growth in manufacturing. It’s not merely a “red state” phenomena though, progressive Denver placed high on list with strong growth in energy jobs and construction employment, as did Portland and Seattle. Intel is building a large new factory near Portland, while Boeing has continued to add jobs in the Seattle area. Pool builders in San Diego, both architects and masonry craftsmen, have seen continued strong demand for their services.

Who’s benefitting most from the growth?

Millennials, people born between 1977 and 1994, are driving the trend. More and more of them are signaling their satisfaction with blue-collar jobs, taking advantage of on-site training and even apprenticeships, rather than betting a college education will result in a better career. The cost of attending college continues to grow. The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Add room and board at $10,440 at four-year public schools or $11,890 at private schools and multiply by four years [or more], and the cost of getting a bachelor degree is astronomical. Taking out student loans to defray these costs can leave you saddled with debt for much of your working life.


by: Dennis Hung