Middle-skill jobs are in the same camp as green jobs, STEM jobs, and other groups of occupations that garner lots of attention: They can be defined many ways, by many rubrics. Regardless of the definition, however, it’s clear that middle-skill, or middle-wage, jobs have been in decline for years.
New research from the Federal Reserve indicates the share of middle-skill jobs in the workforce has dropped from 25% in 1985 to just above 15% today, part of the hollowing-out effect that David Autor of MIT has documented. And as our chart above shows, middle-wage jobs — those that pay between $13.84 and $21.13 per hour, as defined by the National Employment Law Project — sustained much deeper cuts during the 2008-2009 recession than high- and low-wage jobs.
But not every middle-skill, middle-wage job is now extinct because of automation and offshoring. A subset of mid-wage manufacturing jobs (along with jobs in energy, health care, and other sectors) are among the healthiest post-recession occupations in the U.S. Furthermore, in a handful of states (Wyoming, Iowa, North Dakota, Michigan), mid-wage fields account for more than or close to 40% of all new jobs since 2010.
Mid-Skill or Mid-Wage?
For our analysis, we used middle-wage jobs instead of middle-skill jobs (i.e., those that require less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school degree). This is because some occupations that the BLS has assigned a mid level of education (e.g., registered nurses) often require a higher level of education by employers.
Share of New Jobs in Mid-Wage Category
In the U.S., a quarter of all new jobs since 2010 fall in the mid-wage range. That’s a slightly smaller share than high-wage jobs (29%), while almost half (46%) of new jobs have been low-wage.
No state has stood out more than Wyoming, where 45% of new jobs since 2010 have been mid-wage — well ahead of Iowa (37%), North Dakota (36%), and Michigan (35%). Texas (25%) and California (23%) have created the most total new middle-wage jobs in the nation, but they’re in the middle of the pack in terms of the share of all new jobs.
At the bottom, Rhode Island is the only state that’s lost middle-wage jobs the last few years. Coincidentally, it’s also seen a decline in high-wage jobs, meaning all of its job growth has been in occupations that pay $13.83 or lower.
Meanwhile, Mississippi (10%) and New York (13%) have the lowest share of new mid-wage jobs among states that have seen job increases.
Generally, states with higher cost of living are at the bottom in mid-wage job growth, with the exception of Mississippi. (It’s worth noting 80% of new jobs in Mississippi have been low-wage).
|State Name||2013 Jobs||New Jobs Since 2010 (Total)||New Jobs Since 2010 (Mid-Wage)||Share of New Jobs Since 2010 (Mid-Wage)|
|Source: QCEW Employees, Non-QCEW Employees & Self-Employed - EMSI 2013.3 Class of Worker|
|District of Columbia||775,185||23,111||4,378||19%|
Mid-Skill, Mid-Wage Occupations on the Rise
The list of still-vibrant middle-wage jobs is long, and most typically require on-the-job training, work experience, or short-term certificates and degrees that community colleges specialize in. This includes customer service representatives (up 6%) and heavy/tractor-trailer truck drivers (up 7%), two occupations that have each added more than 118,000 estimated jobs since the start of 2010. Both offer solid, mid-tier earnings ($14.91 and $18.14 median hourly earnings, respectively).
Other examples of strong mid-wage occupations:
- Machinists have the best combination of total jobs added from 2010 to 2013 (nearly 50,000) and percentage job growth (14%). This occupation is just one of several on-the-rebound production fields: computer controlled machine tool operators (17% growth since 2010), welders (11%), and inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers (8%) have also performed well post-recession.
- The fastest-growing mid-wage jobs are clustered in energy fields, specifically oil and gas: roustabouts (38% growth since 2010), oil, gas, and mining service unit operators (38%), helpers of extraction workers (28%), and extraction workers, all other (22%). Next in percentage growth since 2010 are computer controlled machine tool operators (17%).
These occupations are the cream of the crop in terms of recent job growth, and there are dozens of other viable mid-wage professions.
Joshua Wright is an editor at EMSI, an Idaho-based economics firm that provides data and analysis to workforce boards, economic development agencies, higher education institutions, and the private sector. He manages the EMSI blog and is a freelance journalist. Contact him here.