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PORTSIDE  July 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE July 2012, Week 1


The Surprising Size Of "White Working Class" America


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Mon, 2 Jul 2012 00:34:59 -0400





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A TDS Strategy Memo:
The Surprising Size Of "White Working Class" America
Half of all White Men and 40 Percent of White Women
Still Work in Basically Blue Collar Jobs
By Andrew Levison
The Democratic Stategist
June 2012

In the last two weeks an energetic argument about voting
trends among white "working class"  voters and the right
way to properly define the group itself has mushroomed
across the pages  of the New York Times, the U.K.
Guardian, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly and
a variety of other political journals. The debate is
intense and of critical importance because  as the 2012
election nears it has become clear that the "base"
voters of the Obama coalition- youth, minorities, single
women, educated professionals and others are not by
themselves  sufficient to insure his re- election. By
most calculations Obama must win somewhere close  to 40%
of white "working class" voters (defined as those with
less than a four year college  degree) in order to win
the election. Right now Obama's support in this group
hovers in the low to mid-thirties.

As Tom Edsall noted in a round-up article in the New
York Times:

    Political  analysts,  journalists  and academics are
    fighting  over  white working-class voters- over
    how  to define  them  and  what  their political
    significance  is.  Part  of  the reason for  the
    furious  tone  of  the  argument is  that  this  is
    an  issue  of  central importance in American
    politics. And it's not just crucial for the
    presidential election: understanding what the white
    working class is and where it is going is
    fundamental if  we want to understand where the
    country is going...

    Part of the problem is that different people mean
    different things when they are talking  about  the
    working class.  Is this  cohort  made  up  of those
    without college degrees; those in the bottom third
    of the income distribution; or those in occupations
    described by the federal government as "blue-

The most careful and systematic recent analysis of how
to best define the white working class was presented by
Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz in a 2008 Brookings
Institution study.2 Teixeira and Abramowitz carefully
compared the advantages and disadvantages of each of the
approaches above and developed a sophisticated composite
index that made use of all three  forms of data.

In that same analysis, however, Teixeira and Abramowitz
also noted that for several very practical reasons most
polling companies, political strategists and media
commentators today accept education rather than
occupation or income as the best single way to define
the term "working class."

On the one hand, although the traditional conception of
the term "working class" and most people's mental image
of working class individuals has historically been based
on occupation, collecting  useful  data  in  this area
presents serious  practical  problems. When  polling
companies call people on the telephone, getting them to
provide clear, unambiguous definitions  of their
specific  job and  occupation  is  often extremely
difficult and  accurately categorizing those  responses
into  broad  categories  like "blue  collar" versus
"white  collar" frequently presents problems.  In
contrast,  asking a person  about the  highest  level
of education he or she has obtained is generally

The alternative approach of defining "working class"
simply in terms of income level produces even greater
complications. Low income individuals include all sorts
of people-the retired, students, homemakers, the
chronically ill or disabled and others who are not
working at all and  the group is simply not what
political analysts and commentators really mean to refer
to when  they use the term "white working class." The
inescapable fact is that "lower income" people and
"working class" people are actually very distinct
sociological categories.

While  it  avoids  these problems,  using education  to
define  the  term working  class does, however, also
have its own downside. While, as we will see, education
and occupation do indeed substantially overlap, they are
not identical. When commentators use the term "the white
working class" they are generally visualizing blue
collar or other essentially physical or  manual workers-
a group that has very distinct social and cultural
characteristics- rather than  the more sociologically
amorphous and hard to visualize social category of "less
educated"  individuals. In most peoples experience, blue
collar and other basically manual workers are
significantly different from white collar office
workers, sales workers or technical workers who  happen
to have less than a four-year college degree and it is
the former group rather than the latter that people
generally associate with the term "working class."

The Disappearing Working Class

In  fact,  there  is  a  deep  and  unacknowledged
political  schizophrenia  in  American  public attitudes
toward the traditional, "blue collar" white working
class.  In the three or four months before elections
journalists head to Ohio and Pennsylvania and send back
reports from the  blue collar  diners,  bowling alleys
and  pot-luck dinners  in  working  class  neighborhoods
in those states because it is universally agreed that
they are key battlegrounds in the elections. Other
reporters go on the road and file dispatches from NASCAR
races, tractor pulls, country  music concerts and other
parts of red state America to sample the mood of the
other, "real"  U.S.A.  For a few weeks the papers and TV
news programs are filled with images of the white
working class-the America of weather-beaten, wood-siding
houses with metal swing sets  and cars with chipped and
faded paint in the front yard, the America of  deer
hunters, roadside  churches, Ford and Chevy trucks
hauling john boats and off-road motorbikes to state
parks on weekends and crowded bars that play commercial
country music and show mixed martial arts on their TV's.
This world suddenly becomes visible because it is
recognized that this is where the election will be
decided. 2

But  then,  two  or  three  weeks  after elections  are
over,  the  white  working  class suddenly disappears.
Commentators  quickly revert  to  describing  America
as  a  block  of socially homogenous "middle class"
voters while the profound social chasm that exists
within the white  electorate  is  completely  ignored.
Whites,  other  than  pro-Democratic professionals,  are
routinely analyzed as rural or suburban rather than
urban, red state rather than blue state and old rather
than young. But they are rarely if ever distinguished as
blue collar versus white collar.

Underlying this lack of attention to white working class
Americans is the powerful image of the "modern digital
economy"-the deeply rooted conviction that in the
knowledge-based,  post- industrial world traditional
blue collar workers simply can't be very important-
politically  or sociologically. This  is  reflected  in
the major  clichés  and  buzzwords  of modern political
commentary.  In  the  1990's  images  of a  new  white-
collar  electorate  became  popular- the  famous "soccer
moms", "office park dads" and "wired workers". More
recently the "new working class"-"pink  collar  workers"
or  "waitress moms"  among  women  and  low  paid,
dead-end "lousy jobs" for young men-have also become
journalistic clichés.

But  traditional  blue  collar  workers  do  not have  a
current  cliché  of  their  own. The 1950's  era  image
of  the  "average  Joe"  or "ordinary  guy"  as  a
basically  decent  fellow became transformed into the
image of the conservative "Joe six-packs" and "hard
hats" in the 1970's.  In recent decades the images
switched to geography and culture rather than
occupation- the  gun owning, pickup truck driving
"rednecks" and "bubbas" who supported George W. Bush and
the religious right. In the 2008 election the most
significant-and misleading-images of blue  collar
workers were both starkly Republican-"Joe the Plumber"
and Todd Palin.

The Working Class Includes More Than Just Industrial

The basis for this relative disinterest in the
traditional white working class is the notion that it
represents a rapidly shrinking minority of the
electorate and society as a whole. Because this decline
seems almost self-evident, factual support for the view
is usually limited to the presentation of just a few
illustrative statistics-the most common being that
manufacturing  workers declined from 40% of the labor
force in 1940 to 10% today.

There  is,  however,  a  profound  fallacy  in this
approach.  While  the  demographic assertion about  the
decline  of  industrial workers  is  technically
accurate  it  is  also deeply  and fundamentally

The number of manufacturing workers has indeed declined,
but "industrial workers" represent  only a small sub-set
of the larger sociological categories "blue collar" or
"working class."

In fact, when one takes the critical step of looking
separately at the occupations of white men and  white
women  rather  than  combining  them together  and
focuses  first  on  the occupations of white men, the
striking fact that quickly becomes apparent is that
there are 3still many white workers who are basically
blue collar even though they do not work in large
factories. They work in sectors other than
manufacturing-as auto mechanics, construction  workers,
warehouse workers,  truck  drivers,  police  and
firemen. Nor  is  this  a  recent  phenomenon. Even in
the 1950's industrial workers were not the only members
of the American  working  class. Longshoremen,
teamsters,  construction  workers, security  guards,
night watchmen, janitors, cops, garbage collectors and
many others were all part of the broad Democratic
conception of "working class" men-the "ordinary guys" or
"average Joes" whose  support provided the foundation of
the new deal coalition.

But,  oddly,  in  modern  political  commentary one
literally  never  sees  specific calculations of what
fraction traditional blue collar workers constitute of
the total white male labor force  today. In most
discussions the combination of the declining industrial
work force and the growing white and pink collar "new
working class" composed of both men and women is treated
as sufficient evidence to logically deduce that white
male blue collar workers are no  longer a critical
political force.

This  notion  so  deeply  ingrained  in  modern
political  discussion  that  anyone  who  flatly
asserted that the number of white men who still work in
basically physical or routine manual  jobs actually
represent half of the white male labor force in America
would be dismissed as  simply unfamiliar with the data.

But, in fact, if one looks carefully at the detailed
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tables that  list  the
number  of  white  men  who  work in  some  300  major
occupational  categories (which includes those "not
elsewhere classified", making it effectively include all
white male workers) this is precisely what one finds.
Almost exactly half of the white male labor force works
in occupations that most political observers,
commentators and ordinary voters would  quickly and
confidently define as basically "blue collar" or manual
rather than "white collar."

Blue Collas Versus White Collar

Let us look first at white men and then at white women.
Here is a chart that divides the number of white male
workers in the major occupations that are tracked by the
Bureau of Labor Statistics into the two basic categories
"blue collar" and "white collar.

"Occupations of white male workers - 2007

Total Employed (in thousands) (62,461)

White Collar Occupations (31,086) (49.8%) 
Managers/Executives/Professionals (21,907)
Sales/Clerical /Office Workers (9,178)

Lower Level Supervisors/ Foremen (2,826)
(Note: not included in either blue or white collar
categories. See text)

Blue Collar/Working Class Occupations (31,376) (50.2%)
Traditional Blue Collar Workers    (22,722) 
Blue Collar Service Workers (6,943) 
Blue Collar Clerical Workers (1,711)

(Note: in this chart the "traditional blue collar"
category  includes the two BLS top-level categories
"production,  transportation and material moving" and
"Natural Resources, construction and maintenance." These
contain essentially the same set of occupations as the
three traditional post-war BLS categories "craftsmen"
"operatives" and "laborers".)

People  who  are  familiar  with  the occupational
categories  used  by  the Bureau  of Labor Statistics
will note  that - unlike  the chart  above - BLS
statistics  do  not  separate out  the  blue collar
workers in the "service" and "sales, clerical and
office" categories from the white  collar  or  pink
collar  workers  in those  same  two  categories.  The
reason  is that  the  BLS categorization  schemes  are
not designed  to  quantify  the  political  and
sociological categories  "blue  collar"  and "white
collar"  but  rather  for  quite different  demographic
and commercial purposes.

Specific Occupations

As a result, it is necessary to look more closely at the
list of detailed occupations that lie beneath the broad
categories in order to properly estimate the overall
numbers of essentially  blue collar  versus  white
collar  white  men. The complete  data  and  explanatory
notes  are presented at the end of the analysis.

Traditional Blue Collar Workers - there are 196
different specific occupations listed in the  two BLS
categories "Production, Transportation and Materials
Moving" and "Natural Resource, Construction and
Maintenance." They range from carpenters, construction
laborers and iron and steel workers to auto mechanics,
heating and air conditioning repairmen, truck drivers,
butchers, factory workers, machinists and tool and die

Traditional blue collar workers include:

Manufacturing workers

Occupation (Average weekly earnings)

Manufacturing workers 
400,000 welders ($661) 
44,000 electrical and electromechanical assemblers ($622)
300,000 machinists ($802) 
51,000 cutting, punching and press machine operators ($637) 
1,100,000 Laborers and materials movers ($508)

Transportation workers 
2,400,000 truck drivers ($691)
225,000  bus drivers ($660) 
180,000 taxi drivers ($570)

Construction workers 
1,100,000 carpenters ($624) 
680,000 electricians ($890) 
480,000 plumbers ($793) 
190,000 roofers ($521) 
15,000 sheet metal workers ($773)
1,200,000 construction laborers ($596)

Mechanics and linemen 
680,000 auto mechanics ($680)
340,000 heating and air conditioning mechanics ($862)
140,000 phone and cable linemen and installers ($873)

Agricultural and logging workers 
510,000 miscellaneous agricultural workers ($415) 
47,000 logging workers ($613)

Blue Collar Service Workers. There are 46 different
occupations listed in this category. For men, it is
overwhelmingly blue collar. The largest male occupations
in this category include policemen, firemen, guards and
prison workers, cooks, waiters, bartenders, and
dishwashers, janitors, lawn care, pest control and
grounds maintenance workers.

Blue collar service workers include: 
515,000 police ($992) 
245,000 firefighters ($1055) 
500,000 security guards ($519) 
1,100,000 janitors ($494) 
890,000 cooks ($401) 
170,000 dishwashers ($327) 
990,000 grounds and landscape workers ($433) 
34,000 baggage porters ($564)

Blue Collar Clerical/Sales/Office Workers- Within the
clerical, sales and office category  there are actually
a substantial number of blue collar occupations. The
largest blue collar occupations in this category include
meter readers, mail carriers, shipping clerks and stock

Blue collar clerical/sales/office workers include:
170,000 mailmen ($952) 
45,000 bill collectors ($597)
570,000 stock clerks and order fillers ($471) 
260,000 shipping and receiving clerks ($553)

    Lower-level Foremen and Supervisors - culturally and
    politically speaking, lower level foremen and
    supervisors generally share the blue-collar culture
    of the men they work with and who are often their
    friends and neighbors. In traditional industrial
    sociology,  however, they were frequently considered
    a distinct, socially ambiguous group because  they
    represent management. As a result, in calculating
    ratios of blue-collar to white collar workers, they
    were frequently set aside in a special "neither fish
    nor fowl" category.

If low-level foremen and supervisors are left out of the
calculation, the percentage of blue collar and white
collar white men in 2007 was almost precisely equal-50.2
to 49.8%. Including  lower- level foremen and
supervisors as part of the white collar total only
increases that total  by about 2%.

It is important to note that the economic crisis of 2008
actually eliminated almost 2 million working class jobs
between 2007 and 2009, lowering the blue collar
proportion of the labor  force from 50% to 48%. It is
reasonable to assume, however, that a significant number
of these working  class  jobs  will  eventually  return
unless  America  remains  in  a  permanent economic

The basic conclusion is clear. Taken as a whole, the
rather startling fact is that somewhere  close to 50
percent of white men today are still in basically blue
collar jobs.

For many people, this is quite unexpected.  With the
disappearance of the vast auto and steel plants of the
50's and 60's it became easy to imagine that the large
majority of white  American men and women had become
part of an amorphous white-collar majority. But it
simply is not true.

The Earnings of Working Class Men

It is also worth noting a few facts about these white
workers' income. During the 1950's and 1960's  the
cliché  of  the  "affluent  worker" became  popular  as
many  commentators  noted that some skilled blue-collar
workers earned more than many white collar workers. Even
today, it is often suggested that blue-collar workers
earnings are not really substantially lower than  most
white collar workers.

The facts, however, show the opposite. While many
skilled workers and union workers in fields  where they
have  substantial  bargaining  power  can earn
"affluent"  incomes, most blue-collar workers earn
distinctly less than their white collar counterparts.

Occupation (men) (Median Weekly Earnings)

White Collar 
Management, business and financial ($1,388)
Professional ($1191) 
Sales and Office ($761)

Blue Collar 
Natural Resources, Construction and Maintenance ($730) 
Production and Transportation ($661) 
Service    ($559)

Every major white collar category makes more than any
blue collar category. There are many  specific
occupations where white and blue collar weekly earnings
overlap, but, seen on a  larger scale, the pattern is

A second point to note is that weekly earnings for the
specific Blue Collar Service and Blue Collar Clerical
and Sales occupations presented in the preceding pages
provide confirmation that the blue-collar workers in
those categories are indeed essentially "working class"
rather  than "middle class." In most cases they earn
less than skilled blue collar workers making them
clearly part of the working class in terms of income as
well as occupation.

Finally,  it  is  important  to  note that looking  at
median  weekly  earnings  provides a much more "down to
earth" picture of workers' financial situation than do
annual figures. Looking at  the  weekly  figures  one
can quickly  convert  them  to  the  familiar  hourly
rates  that Americans encounter in daily life - $10 or
$12 dollar an hour for laborers or other unskilled
workers and $22-24 dollars an hour for construction and
other skilled workers.

The Occupations of Working Class Women

Now consider the parallel statistics for white women:
Occupations of white female workers - 2007

Total Employment (In Thousands) (53,740) 
White Collar Occupations (41,218) 
Managers/ Executives/Professionals (23,509) 
Sales/Clerical/Office Workers (17,709)

The Working Class total rises to 40% if the female
Clerical and Sales category is assumed to actually be
split 50/50 between basically blue collar and white
collar jobs.

Lower Level Supervisors/Foremen (763)
(Note: not included in either blue collar or white
collar categories. See text)

Blue Collar/Working Class Occupations (12,522) (23%)
in  traditional  Working  Class Occupations for women

Traditional Blue Collar Workers (3,445) 
Blue Collar Service Workers (8,016) 
Blue Collar Clerical Workers (1,061)

(Note: in this chart the "traditional blue collar"
category includes the two BLS top-level categories
"Production,  Transportation and Material Moving" and
"Natural Resources, Construction and Maintenance")

As the chart above shows, 23% - about one fourth of
white female workers are in traditional female blue
collar/working class jobs. The number rises toward 40 %
when one includes the  essentially working class jobs
contained within the Clerical, Sales and Office
category. Once  again, however, it is necessary to look
at the detailed occupations to see the real story.

Traditional Blue Collar Workers-There  have always been
many  blue  collar occupations  for women - circuit
board  assemblers in  electronics plants, laundry
workers, sewing machine operators, bus drivers and
packaging workers among others. While blue  collar
"women's  work" often  requires  less gross muscularity
than many male blue collar jobs, it frequently requires
greater endurance, focus and tenacity making  the jobs
equally hard, mind- numbing, and exhausting.

Traditional blue-collar occupations for women include:

Occupation (Average weekly earnings) 
61,000 electronics assemblers ($481) 
213,000 miscellaneous assemblers ($475) 
75,000 laundry and dry cleaning workers ($361)
105,000 sewing machine operators ($410) 
178,000 packers and packagers ($398) 
155,000 inspectors, testers and sorters ($549)
238,000 bus drivers ($502)

Service Workers -  the  largest  specific occupations
in  this  category  include  many  of the classic
working class jobs for women-maids, cleaning women,
waitresses, cooks,  dishwashers, hostesses, counter
attendants, ticket-takers and child care workers. These
are the kinds of low- level jobs that Barbara Ehrenreich
very perceptively described in her book, Nickel and
Dimed . They are generally low-paid, no-benefit jobs
with constant  pressure and close supervision. It is the
jobs of this kind that led the London Economist to
recently  define the "modern"  working  class  as
people  who  "work with  their  hands or stand on their
feet all day." In fact, these jobs actually fit the
traditional sociological criteria for blue collar work
based on four major factors - (1) primarily physical
rather than mental, (2) dull and repetitive, (3) closely
supervised and (4) offering limited potential for

Blue collar service occupations for women include:

1,230,000 waitresses ($381) 
624,000 cooks ($381) 
200,000 hostesses restaurant and coffee shops ($337) 
992,000 maids and housekeeping cleaners ($376) 
539,000 building cleaners and janitors ($400) 
590,000 hairdressers, and cosmetologists ($462) 
970,000 child care workers ($398)

Clerical,  Sales  and  Office  Workers -  the clerical,
sales  and  office  category  for women is huge-larger
than all the traditional working class occupations
combined.  But,  in fact, a substantial number of these
jobs are more accurately described as "white (or  pink)
collar working class" rather than simply "white collar."
Some of the major occupations in and the lowest- level
retail sales workers. this category include cashiers,
telephone operators, file clerks, tellers,

In sociological terms, it is clear that there is a deep
social schism within this broad occupational category.
Female real estate brokers and executive secretaries
obviously live and work in a profoundly different
environment than cashiers or telephone operators.

White collar or pink collar working class jobs for women
are, in general, preferable to working on an electronic
assembly line for a minimum wage or scrubbing floors and
making  beds in hotels but many of these jobs come close
to fitting traditional sociological definitions  of
working class status based on effort, monotony, lack of
mobility and close supervision as well as in regard to
broader issues like pay, benefits and social status.

Jobs  for  women in the clerical, sales  and office
categories  that  fit many of the traditional
sociological criteria for "working class" occupations

1,700,000 cashiers ($366) 
1,350,000 retail salespersons ($421) 
307,000 tellers ($490) 
46,000 telephone and switchboard operators ($588) 
206,000 file clerks ($583)
400,000 office clerks ($597) 
1,000,000 receptionists ($529)

As far as earnings are concerned, for women as for men,
all of the white collar occupational categories earn
more than any of the blue collar ones.Occupation (women)
Median Weekly Earnings

White Collar

Management, business and financial ($972) 
Professional ($912) 
Sales and Office ($600)

Blue Collar

Natural Resources, Construction and Maintenance ($537) 
Production and Transportation ($473) 
Service ($423)

The bottom line result is simple: close to half of white
men and 35-40% of white women in  the labor force are
still essentially "working class." Their occupations are
basically blue collar  rather than white collar and
their earnings fall far below their white collar

In one respect, this seems a new and startling
conclusion. In another sense, however, it is something
most people  really  suspected  all along.  The  data
that  has  been  presented here dramatically illustrates
that in the real world white blue- collar workers are a
far more important social group than is generally
recognized. They are not the desperate and jobless
workers who "shaped up" in front of the factory gates
every day to beg for work as factory workers  did
during  the  great depression.  Many make  decent  money
and  vast numbers work as small independent contractors
rather than hired employees. Nor do most working class
men still talk or act like the inarticulate, hulking
laborers portrayed by Marlon Brando in the 1950's and
Sylvester Stallone in the 1970's. But they are united by
sociological traits  and cultural values that define
many aspects of their social identity. Unlike the
affluent or highly educated they see themselves as "real
Americans" who are "just getting ," They are  "hard-
working" "practical" and  "realistic." They  believe  in
"old-fashioned traditional  values" and trust in
"character" and real-world experience rather than
advanced education. They rely  on "common sense" not
abstract theories. These characteristics have not
basically changed  since  the  1950's  when these
workers  considered  themselves  good Democrats and
they remain important determinants of their political
outlook today.

The fact that white workers  are actually  a far larger
and more politically  important  group than the common
wisdom of recent years has suggested explains why
political reporters and  campaign strategists  suddenly
find  themselves  focusing on  the  mood  in  blue
collar diners, bowling alleys and pot-luck dinners in
working class neighborhoods in to Ohio and  Pennsylvania
as election  day  approaches  while  other  reporters go
on  the  road  and  file dispatches  from NASCAR  races,
tractor  pulls  and  country music  bars.  If
traditional  blue collar white working class people were
really as socially and politically marginal as the
popular clichés suggest, this would simply not be

In fact, traditional white working class voters are
still a central force in American politics- a far
larger  force  than  most  political commentators
recognize.  This  is  a  fact  that would clearly emerge
if public opinion polls could accurately categorize
employed voters by their occupations.  As  the  next
section  reveals, however,  education  is  actually
quite  closely correlated with occupation, enough to
allow public opinion researchers to use education as a
valid proxy for the traditional occupationally based
conception of working class status.

Education and Occupation Overlap - Three Quarters of
High School Educated White Men are in Blue Collar Jobs.

One  important  benefit  of  the  revised  view of
working  class  occupations  provided  in  the preceding
sections  is  that  it  provides  a missing
sociological  underpinning  for  the modern  approach of
most political analysts, pollsters and strategists who
now define the term "working  class"  in  terms  of
education.  Since 2000,  and  stimulated  by  the
demographic  work of Ruy Teixeira in his 1999 book, The
Forgotten Majority - Why the White Working Class Still
Matters and  his  subsequent  studies,  public opinion
analysts  have  increasingly  come to visualize  the
"working  class"  as  those survey  respondents  who
have  either  just  a high school diploma or less than a
college education.

Teixeira's point of departure was the fact that in the
modern economy people who had no more than high school
diplomas were very severely limited in their
occupational choices to  either blue collar or the
lowest level white collar jobs. Regardless of the
precise nature of  the work that was involved,
individuals with only a high school education were
confined to 12 the kinds of jobs that offered relatively
low wages, meager or non- existent fringe benefits,
very limited job security and opportunities for
advancement, low social status and a variety of other
negative characteristics.  This  made  these  jobs
substantially  different  from  the  jobs available to
individuals with higher education.

The resulting insight that education could therefore be
used either as a very close proxy for occupation  in
studying  the  working  class  or be  visualized  as
representing  a  new non- occupational way of defining
the working class was tremendously important for
political analysis because education levels are, as we
saw, relatively easy to collect on opinion surveys while
obtaining useful data on occupations has always been
fiendishly difficult. Today, in political and polling
analysis, education has become the most widely accepted
way to define working class.

Few  studies,  however,  have  tried  to  directly
relate  the  specific  occupations  that  people hold
with their level of education. But basic data is in fact
available and provides a deeper sociological picture of
people with high school or less than college educations.

Here is a chart that shows the situation for white men,
once again from the BLS:

Occupations of White Men - by Years of Education - 2008

Occupation (High School (Some College  (BA or Above) 
            or Less)     including AA) 
Total       (40%)        (26%)         (34%) 
White Collar(26%)        (50%)         (86%) 
Blue Collar (74%)        (50%)         (14%)

(Note: in this chart "blue collar" includes the three
BLS top-level categories "Production, Transportation and
Material  Moving", "Natural Resource and Cconstruction"
and "Service" occupations. The "White collar" total
includes the BLS  categories "Sales and Office" and
"Management and Professional" (It is worth noting that
if the blue collar workers in the clerical and sales
category were allocated to the blue collar category the
total would be even higher).

What  this  chart  shows  is  that  for  white male
workers  with  no  more  than  a  high school diploma
-74% - three-fourths of the total - worked in blue
collar jobs while only 26% percent had white collar
occupations. For those with "some college"-Associate of
Arts degrees or some college credits but no diploma-
exactly half were blue collar and half white collar.

The  heavy  concentration  of  the  high  school
educated  in  blue  collar  jobs  is  hardly surprising.
It is in high school where young men and women's social
identities are formed and it is largely these social
identities-  the sense of "who I am" - that
substantially determine the kinds of occupations and the
level of education they seek when they graduate.

Across a wide variety of American high schools, the two
basic social identities that always emerge are the
opposed cultures of "Jocks vs. Burnouts", "Greasers vs.
Preppies", "Punks  vs. BOMC's (Big Men on Campus)",
"Trash vs. Collegiates". The particular names that are
used vary from region to region but they always reflect
the basic divide between working class and middle class

As anthropologist Penelope Eckert notes in her study:
Jocks and Burnouts - social categories and identity in
the high school

    The  Jocks  and  Burnouts  are  adolescent
    embodiments  of  the  middle  and  working class,
    respectively; their two separate cultures are in
    many ways class cultures; and  opposition  and
    conflict  between them  define and  exercise class
    relations and differences.

    Although the majority of high school students do not
    define themselves as full- fledged  members of one
    category or another, an important part of most
    adolescent's social  identity is dominated by the
    opposition between the two categories.

In  terms  of  occupational choice,  the  Jock vs.
Burnout  distinction  marks  the  division between
those  who  are  aiming  for  college and  a  middle
class  life  versus  those  who are gradually
accommodating themselves to a future in the working

Many working class students tend to orient themselves
toward occupations they perceive as "manly". In Texas,
for example, anthropologist Douglas Foley describes the
working class students' attitudes as follows:

    Going  to  college  was  "too  hard"  and "cost too
    much  money."  Most  aspired to working class jobs
    like their fathers, such as driving a tractor,
    trucking melons, fixing cars, setting irrigation
    rigs, and working in packing sheds. Some wanted to
    be carpenters  and bricklayers or work for the
    highway road crews.. [Working on road crews] was the
    rural equivalent of working in a factory or foundry.
    It was dangerous dirty heavy work that only "real"
    men did.They considered working with their hands
    honorable, a test of strength and manliness. In
    contrast school work was seen as boring "sissy

While  college is  considered  unattainable, students
like  these  still  seek  to  graduate high school
because even most working class jobs now require at
least a high school diploma. But they see the diploma as
simply a piece of paper.

As sociologist Lois Weis notes in Working Class Without
Work - High School Students in a De- industrializing

    In spite of the deeply felt sense that schooling is
    the only way to "keep off burgers," (i.e.  work at
    a  Burger  King) most  concern  themselves only
    with passing  not  with excelling, competing or even
    doing well. The language of "passing" dominates
    student discourse around schooling much as obtaining
    a union card dominated the discourse  of previous
    generations of white working class males.most end up
    with C's and D's but they do pass...

The  connection  between  a  high  school  diploma and
working  class  status  is  therefore extremely tight.
Once in the labor market, men and women with only high
school diplomas find themselves largely restricted to
relatively dead end jobs and working class lifestyles.

There  is, however,  also  a  second  major  group
within the  working  class-the  more "aspirational"
individuals who go on to community college. Many skilled
working class jobs like automobile mechanics and heating
and air conditioning installation and repair that were
previously learned  in  union  apprenticeship programs
or through  on  the  job  training  now require an
Associate of Arts degree. As a result the more ambitious
and disciplined working  class students go to community
college to get the necessary credential.

Occupations of White Males with AA Degrees

              (Technical) (Academic) 
White Collar  (43%)       (57%) 
Blue Collar   (57%)       (43%)

The  social  distinction  between  the  blue collar  and
white  collar  graduates  of community colleges is
captured by their distribution between technical and
academic degrees. Of the  men with technical degrees,
57% were employed in blue collar jobs. Of those with
academic  degrees, 57% were in white collar jobs.

Looking  at  the  educational  data  more broadly,  in
2008,  40%  of  white  men  had  no more than a high
school education, 26% had some college and 34% had at
least a bachelors  degree. Using a `'narrow" definition
of "working class" as those with no more than a high
school diploma, 75% were employed in blue collar jobs.
Using a "broad" definition of working class - people
with less than a four year college degree, 66% were blue
collar workers.

Thus,  either  three-fourths  or  two-thirds  of those
men  who  are  "working  class"  as defined by
education  are  also  blue  collar workers  in
occupational  terms.  The  working class  as defined  by
education  is  not identical  to  the  working  class
as  defined by  occupation,  but the two approaches very
substantially overlap.

Among  women  the  ratio  of  blue  collar  to broadly
defined  white  collar  workers  at  the various
educational levels cannot be accurately calculated with
the available data because of  the huge clerical, sales
and office category which contains a complex mixture of
both groups.  But, the general picture is as follows:
around one- third of women workers have a high school
education or less, one-third have "some college" but
less than a college degree and one-third  are college
educated. At the same time, about 40% are blue collar in
occupational terms.  Again, the "working class" as
defined by education and by occupation substantially

The  overlap  between  occupation  and  education is
not  only  important  because  it  allows public opinion
data from high school and less than college respondents
to be used as a valid  guide to the opinions of the
"working class." It is also critically important because
it dispels the notion that the less-educated can be
visualized as a unique and distinct social group, rather
than simply as another way of describing working class

Notes on the Data

Some of the following data files are Excel files. If you
have problems downloading the data  from these links,
please copy/paste the corresponding url at the bottom of
each page into your browser.

The data on detailed occupations comes from the
following unpublished table provided  by the BLS

Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation Sex and Race
2007-2009 annual averages.

It can be downloaded here.

In calculating the data that appears in the two tables
comparing blue collar and white collar employment in
this analysis, five changes were made to the original
BLS presentation of the data. The changes are displayed
in the revised excel file titled:

Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation Sex and Race
2007 and 2009 - revised

It can be downloaded here.

The five changes are as follows:

1. The  top-level BLS  occupational  categories (e.g.
"Management,  Professional  and related occupations")
that were not included in the original BLS Excel table
were  added to the revised Excel file.

2. In the revised file the entire top-level category
"service workers" was moved from above the "Sales and
Office workers" category to below it instead.

3. The major blue collar occupations from the "Sales and
Office workers" category were extracted  and  placed  in
a  newly  created category  called  "blue  collar  sales
and office workers"

4. All "supervisors and managers" from the blue collar
categories were extracted and  placed in a newly created
category called "first line supervisors and managers"

Apart from these broad changes no attempt was made to
move individual occupations out of  their positions in
the original BLS tables.

The revised spreadsheet also has excel versions of the
two tables included in the article (in the tab labeled
sheet 1) and data extracted from the BLS table on
occupation and employment (in  the tab labeled sheet 3)

The data on earnings and occupation are derived from the
following unpublished BLS table:

Table A-26. Usual weekly earnings of employed full-time
wage and salary workers by  detailed occupation and sex,
Annual Average 2010

It can be downloaded here.

The same data was also provided as an excel file and
edited for this analysis to present only the relevant

Earnings by Occupation - 2010 - revised

It can be downloaded here.

The data on education and employment are derived from
the following unpublished  BLS table:

Table 10. Employed persons by intermediate occupation,
educational attainment,  sex, race, and Hispanic or
Latino ethnicity (25 years and over), Annual Average
2008  (Source: Current Population Survey)

It can be downloaded here.


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