Good Jobs that Pay without a BA

The blue-collar economy conjures images of shuttered factories and the disappearance of good jobs. Those images reflect the suffering among blue-collar workers left behind by the shift away from an economy based in manufacturing, but they do not tell the whole story. In fact, we find that there are still 30 million good jobs that do not require a Bachelor’s degree. These good jobs pay an average of $55,000 per year, and a minimum of $35,000 annually.

In the past, these good jobs were found almost entirely in manufacturing and other blue-collar industries like transportation and construction. Employment in blue-collar industries, however, has declined primarily because of robots and offshoring of jobs. These industries still hold the majority (55%) of jobs that pay without a BA, but that is changing quickly.

Today we find good jobs in skilled-services industries, such as healthcare, finance, and information technology. These new good jobs have steadily been replacing good jobs lost in traditional blue-collar industries. Twenty-five years ago, a machinist was a typical good manufacturing job paying $44,000 per year Today, a computer support technician who makes $60,000 per year typifies these good jobs in skilled services. Other examples include financial managers, sales representatives, and engineering technicians.

The educational requirements for good jobs that pay without a BA also are shifting. The number of good jobs held by workers with no more than a high school diploma has declined by over 1 million since 1991. Good jobs have shifted primarily to workers with Associate’s degrees, who have gained more than 3 million net new jobs during that same period.

Using our age-adjusted earnings standard for good jobs,5 we find that the number of workers with good jobs that pay without a BA has increased over the past quarter century— from 27 million in 1991 to 30 million today, even with large losses in manufacturing employment. The share of good jobs held by workers without a BA, though, has declined, from 60 percent to 45 percent of all good jobs, as BA holders are taking an increasing share of the good jobs. Workers with BAs now hold 36 million good jobs… 

While it is important to highlight this segment of the job market, there are still hard truths to face. Workers with BAs have gained far more jobs since the Great Recession of 2007-2009 (8.4 million) than workers with less education (3.2 million).6 The share of workers with Bachelor’s degrees recently outnumbered workers with a high school diploma for the first time

.7 6 Carnevale et al., America’s Divided Recovery, 2016. 7 Ibid. It is not just the recession that is to blame. Good jobs for workers without a BA have increased from 27 million in 1991 to 30 million in 2015. But, because the size of the workforce expanded so much, the nonBA share of good jobs declined from about 60 percent of workers to 45 percent in 2015 (Figure 4)

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