NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Best Jobs and Metro Areas for Workers without a College Degree

September 21, 2015

Much has been said about the long-run decline in middle-skill and middle-wage jobs. The consensus is that the U.S. wage structure has become polarized with an increase in jobs situated at the poles of the earnings spectrum with little opportunity in the middle.

Jobs are scarce for workers without a college degree and especially in some high-cost metropolitan areas. The jobs are those that offer at least the national annual median wage.

In 2014, 27.4% of employment could be found in opportunity occupations using measures that reflect both the typical education needed to enter an occupation and the requisite education suggested by job-seekers and occupational experts.

This estimate falls to 20.3% when job accessibility based on educational attainment requested by employers in online job ads is considered.

Reasons for this decline can be attributed to:

  • Technological change and the automation of routine tasks at the heart of these jobs.
  • The globalization of trade and the decline of unions and associated collective bargaining rights.
  • The impact of recessionary periods, including the Great Recession, might have accelerated the loss of middle-skill jobs.
  • The occupations where these workers are more likely to earn a decent wage are registered nurses; bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks; and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers.

The study revealed that access to jobs that provide good wages for those without a college degree varies significantly across America's metropolitan areas, thus, for these workers not all urban economies are equal.

Source: Keith Wardrip et al., "Fed Research Identifies Best Jobs, Metro Areas for Workers Without a College Degree," Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, September 9, 2015.


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