Guest Column

Projections indicate too many low-paying jobs

November 24, 2017
| By Lou Glazer |
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their job projections for 2016-26. The Atlantic did a good overview article of the data entitled “Why Nerds and Nurses are Taking Over the U.S. Economy.” The BLS also did a summary analysis of the data. Both are worth checking out.

What I want to focus on in this article is the minimum education requirement for the 11.5 million new jobs projected to be created by the U.S. economy over the next decade. The projections tell a very different story than the widely accepted view that a preponderance of new jobs requires a post-secondary certificate.

As you can see from the table, the preponderance of projected new jobs requires a high school degree or less. If the projections turn out to be accurate, in 2026, 60.5 percent of jobs will be in occupations that require a high school diploma or less. Down only slightly from 61.6 percent in 2016.

When you divide the 11.5 million projected new jobs into those requiring at least a four-year degree; those requiring something less than a four-year degree and more than a high school degree; and those requiring a high school degree or less, you get the same pattern we have been observing for decades: Job growth is coming primarily in the high- and low-education attainment occupations:

•Four-year degree or more up 4.2 million jobs, 36.5 percent of the job growth

•Less than a four-year degree and more than a high school diploma up 1.9 million jobs, 16.5 percent of the job growth

•High school or less up 5.4 million jobs, 47 percent of the job growth.

The projections don't align with the Lumina Foundation goal of 60 percent of workers having a post-secondary credential. A goal that has been widely accepted.

Nor do the projections align with the story way too many public officials and business leaders have been telling over and over again: Everybody else’s kids should be going into mid-skill jobs rather than getting a four-year degree. There are jobs that do not require a four-year degree but do require something more than a high school diploma. But they are a small proportion of the new jobs. Less than one-half of the projected new jobs that require a four-year degree or more.

We hear a lot about the skilled trades as the best pathway for far more of our kids to get good-paying jobs. The data for total employment, not just the skilled trades, in the four blue-collar occupation groups is decidedly mixed on that. The only group out of 22 that is projected to have fewer jobs in 2026 than 2016 is production — blue-collar manufacturing workers. Down 385,000. The group’s median wage is $33,130. Better news in the other three groups. Transportation and material moving up 644,000 jobs. But the group as a whole is lower paying, with a median wage of $30,730. Construction and extraction with a median wage of $43,610 is projected to add 758,000 jobs. Installation, maintenance and repair with a median wage of $43,440 is projected to add 396,000 jobs.

Taken together, the four blue-collar occupational groups are expected to add 1.4 million jobs. 12.2 percent of the projected increase in jobs over the next decade.

Unfortunately, what this data are aligned with is the Michigan Association of United Ways’ ALICE findings that structurally, the economy is producing too many jobs that do not pay enough for households to be able to pay for basic necessities. In an analysis we did of 2016 median wages by occupation and minimum education requirement of payroll jobs (the projections include self-employment jobs as well), we found only about 20 percent of jobs that require a high school degree or less are in occupations with a median wage above the national median for all jobs ($37,040). There is no reason to believe in 2026 that percentage will change much. So, what these projections are foretelling is an economy a decade from now where far too many jobs are low paying.

BLS projections
(including self-employed)



Graduate degree 6,902 7,892 14.4% 4.4% 4.7%
Bachelor's degree 33,372 36,703 10.0% 21.4% 21.9%
Associate's degree 3,618 4,011 10.9% 2.3% 2.4%
Post-secondary training
(including apprenticeship)
16,123 17,600 9.2% 10.3% 10.5%
High school degree 58,823 61,768 5.0% 37.7% 36.9%
Less than high school 37,226 39,608 6.4% 23.9% 23.6%
Total 156,063 167,581 7.4% 100% 100%

Lou Glazer is president of Michigan Future Inc.

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