The makeup of the workforce has changed over the past few decades. The impact of recessions, along with technological advancements, offshoring and other factors, have caused some industries and job types to strengthen while others have declined. In fact, research from the Federal Reserve shows that the share of middle-skill or middle-wage jobs in the U.S. workforce has dropped from 25 percent in 1985 to just above 15 percent today.
“Middle-wage positions sustained heavier hits during the recession than other wage groups,” says Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder. “This is further indication of a hollowing effect economists have warned about, where middle-wage jobs are thinning out — creating a greater concentration of either high-wage or low-wage positions.”
Yet despite the hits middle-wage occupations have taken, a new study by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. shows that there are various fields and states where these positions are thriving*. “While this trend [of middle-wage jobs declining] has become more pronounced in the last decade — and has broader implications for the U.S. economy — there are still areas of manufacturing, health care, energy and other fields where employment for middle-wage workers is stable and growing at a healthy pace,” Ferguson says.
Middle-wage occupations that are growing
According to the study, 25 percent of all new jobs added in the U.S. since 2010 fall in the middle-wage range, trailing the share of both high-wage jobs (29 percent) and low-wage jobs (46 percent). While various factors are driving the declining share of middle-wage jobs (defined as those jobs that pay between $13.84 and $21.13 per hour for the purpose of this study**), a variety of occupations in this segment have performed well post-recession, listed below. Most of these occupations typically require on-the-job training, work experience or short-term certificates and degrees that community colleges specialize in.
- Customer service representative: Added 132,690 jobs since 2010, up 6 percent; median hourly pay: $14.91
- Heavy/tractor-trailer truck driver: Added 118,541 jobs since 2010, up 7 percent; median hourly pay: $18.41
- Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerk: Added 77,162 jobs since 2010, up 4 percent; median hourly pay: $17.02
- Construction laborer: Added 69,148 jobs since 2010, up 6 percent; median hourly pay: $14.60
- Machinist: Added 49,906 jobs since 2010, up 14 percent; median hourly pay: $19.01
- Welder, cutter, solderer and brazer: Added 38,153 jobs since 2010, up 11 percent; median hourly pay: $17.58
- Automotive service technician and mechanic: Added 36,229 jobs since 2010, up 5 percent; median hourly pay: $16.47
- Inspector, tester, sorter, sampler and weigher: Added 34,424 jobs since 2010, up 8 percent; median hourly pay: $16.81
- Medical assistant: Added 29,949 jobs since 2010, up 5 percent; median hourly pay: $14.35
- Computer-controlled machine tool operator: Added 21,307 jobs since 2010, up 17 percent; median hourly pay: $17.14
- Oil, gas and mining service unit operator: Added 16,690 jobs since 2010, up 38 percent; median hourly pay: $20.16
States fostering middle-wage growth
Wyoming leads the nation in the percentage of middle-wage jobs added in a state post-recession, according to the study. Forty-five percent of new jobs that were created in Wyoming since 2010 have been middle-wage, well ahead of other high-performing states: Iowa (37 percent), North Dakota (36 percent) and Michigan (35 percent).
Texas (25 percent) and California (23 percent) have created the largest total number of 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 over the past few years. Mississippi (10 percent) and New York (13 percent) have the lowest share of new middle-wage jobs among states that have seen job increases.
*EMSI data is collected from more than 90 federal and state sources, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and state labor departments. EMSI removes suppressions often found in publicly available data and includes proprietors, creating a complete picture of the workforce.
**Definition from the National Employment Law Project.