In the press, the phrase “blue collar” is often used as shorthand for white working-class men.
The visibility of this specific slice of the workforce has risen significantly since the 2016 election, when white working-class voters were frequently cited as key to Trump’s success. The president’s rhetoric has mixed blue-collar advocacy with more specific appeals to the white working class, playing on feelings of societal neglect and increased competition with nonwhite workers.
Our new data analysis, published in March, looks at employment data for skilled craft and trade workers, the relatively privileged slice of the blue-collar labor market, including carpenters, mechanics, plumbers and more.
For those in the workforce without an advanced degree, a craft job is something of a gold standard. These are among the highest-paid and most stable blue-collar jobs. Between 2011 and 2015, the average yearly income within these skilled craft and trades jobs was just over US$45,000. Compare that to an average income of $24,539 for laborers, who perform largely unskilled manual tasks, often within the same worksites as craft positions.
So who is getting these high-paying blue-collar jobs? And to what degree do the data support the media narrative? Our analysis reveals that the craft workforce is racially diverse and geographically varied, but overwhelmingly male-dominated.
Trends by race
Using the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2016 records, we analyzed how race, geography and other factors influence craft employment patterns.
We looked at representation rates for black, white and Hispanic men, based on the number of craft jobs held by a group relative to that group’s participation in state labor markets. For instance, since black people made up 10.2 percent of craft workers in New Jersey, but only 5.6 percent of the state labor force, then we can say that they are 81.4 percent overrepresented in these jobs in New Jersey.
Other racial and ethnic groups were not included in our analysis, due to their low overall representation in craft labor positions in most states.
With the exception of Hawaii, white men are employed in craft positions in all other states at substantially higher rates than their presence in state labor forces.
White men have the highest relative employment rates in craft jobs in states on the northeastern seaboard: Delaware, New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Hispanic men are also largely overrepresented in craft jobs, although their degree of overrepresentation varies more than white men’s across states. In Louisiana, for example, Hispanic men comprise 3 percent of the labor market, yet they hold 13.9 percent of craft jobs, an overrepresentation rate of 366 percent.
Black men are overrepresented in skilled craft jobs in all but four states. Like Hispanic men, they have a high peak representation in North Dakota, driven, we believe, by the fossil fuel industry boom.
Men versus women
Where are the women? The short answer: not working in craft jobs.
Nationwide, women are on average 80 percent less likely to work a craft job than men. The best state for access to craft jobs for women is New Hampshire, with 77 percent underrepresentation. Most states, however, hover closer to Montana, which posts the worst rate of 93 percent underrepresentation.