Middle-Wage Jobs That Have Survived, and the States That Are Fostering Them


Middle-skill jobs are in the same camp as green jobs, STEM jobs, and other groups of occupations that garner lots of attention: They can be defined many ways, by many rubrics. Regardless of the definition, however, it’s clear that middle-skill, or middle-wage, jobs have been in decline for years.

New research from the Federal Reserve indicates the share of middle-skill jobs in the workforce has dropped from 25% in 1985 to just above 15% today, part of the hollowing-out effect that David Autor of MIT has documented. And as our chart above shows, middle-wage jobs — those that pay between $13.84 and $21.13 per hour, as defined by the National Employment Law Project — sustained much deeper cuts during the 2008-2009 recession than high- and low-wage jobs.

But not every middle-skill, middle-wage job is now extinct because of automation and offshoring. A subset of mid-wage manufacturing jobs (along with jobs in energy, health care, and other sectors) are among the healthiest post-recession occupations in the U.S. Furthermore, in a handful of states (Wyoming, Iowa, North Dakota, Michigan), mid-wage fields account for more than or close to 40% of all new jobs since 2010.

Mid-Skill or Mid-Wage?

For our analysis, we used middle-wage jobs instead of middle-skill jobs (i.e., those that require less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school degree). This is because some occupations that the BLS has assigned a mid level of education (e.g., registered nurses) often require a higher level of education by employers.

This methodology is similar to the one used by Autor is his 2010 study. For a brief synopsis of why Autor used wage to approximate skill, see here.

Share of New Jobs in Mid-Wage Category

In the U.S., a quarter of all new jobs since 2010 fall in the mid-wage range. That’s a slightly smaller share than high-wage jobs (29%), while almost half (46%) of new jobs have been low-wage.


No state has stood out more than Wyoming, where 45% of new jobs since 2010 have been mid-wage — well ahead of Iowa (37%), North Dakota (36%), and Michigan (35%). Texas (25%) and California (23%) have created the most total 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.

State-MidWage-ShareAt the bottom, Rhode Island is the only state that’s lost middle-wage jobs the last few years. Coincidentally, it’s also seen a decline in high-wage jobs, meaning all of its job growth has been in occupations that pay $13.83 or lower.

Meanwhile, Mississippi (10%) and New York (13%) have the lowest share of new mid-wage jobs among states that have seen job increases.

Generally, states with higher cost of living are at the bottom in mid-wage job growth, with the exception of Mississippi. (It’s worth noting 80% of new jobs in Mississippi have been low-wage).

State Name 2013 Jobs New Jobs Since 2010 (Total) New Jobs Since 2010 (Mid-Wage) Share of New Jobs Since 2010 (Mid-Wage)
Source: QCEW Employees, Non-QCEW Employees & Self-Employed – EMSI 2013.3 Class of Worker
Wyoming 319,672 7,607 3,411 45%
Iowa 1,689,811 58,987 21,902 37%
North Dakota 492,918 71,607 25,970 36%
Michigan 4,391,882 214,075 74,536 35%
Arizona 2,805,158 155,430 53,115 34%
Alaska 388,436 9,790 3,296 34%
New Mexico 913,612 13,215 4,315 33%
Oklahoma 1,786,664 66,837 21,153 32%
Minnesota 3,007,618 128,418 39,433 31%
Pennsylvania 6,215,891 123,999 37,616 30%
Vermont 356,643 10,494 3,158 30%
Hawaii 742,002 27,637 8,262 30%
Kentucky 2,038,143 72,485 21,562 30%
South Carolina 2,085,991 83,597 24,601 29%
Wisconsin 2,989,657 60,737 17,661 29%
Louisiana 2,143,399 64,696 18,736 29%
Ohio 5,585,543 159,403 44,960 28%
Indiana 3,160,881 146,127 40,050 27%
Kansas 1,530,232 35,131 9,471 27%
Colorado 2,668,013 153,362 40,122 26%
Nebraska 1,059,262 28,648 7,430 26%
Texas 12,485,450 904,317 226,927 25%
Tennessee 3,061,383 144,846 34,657 24%
Utah 1,408,139 112,919 26,974 24%
California 17,523,783 913,413 208,707 23%
Massachusetts 3,679,152 149,301 33,836 23%
Oregon 1,908,085 66,034 14,817 22%
North Carolina 4,564,124 202,606 45,008 22%
Georgia 4,449,841 182,068 40,297 22%
Montana 511,880 18,730 4,122 22%
Maryland 2,881,471 103,598 22,439 22%
Nevada 1,260,218 47,951 10,160 21%
Idaho 724,549 26,236 5,250 20%
South Dakota 472,376 12,811 2,476 19%
District of Columbia 775,185 23,111 4,378 19%
Washington 3,379,817 140,985 26,352 19%
West Virginia 789,978 22,278 4,134 19%
Arkansas 1,302,641 15,044 2,652 18%
Illinois 6,243,694 178,096 30,999 17%
Missouri 2,988,014 62,799 10,803 17%
Maine 672,708 2,998 508 17%
Delaware 453,952 12,810 2,133 17%
Florida 8,370,099 373,274 61,868 17%
Alabama 2,084,701 22,075 3,605 16%
Connecticut 1,831,478 44,701 7,161 16%
Virginia 4,175,545 133,765 19,079 14%
New Jersey 4,211,361 104,096 14,478 14%
New Hampshire 702,271 13,694 1,877 14%
New York 9,602,939 325,490 43,591 13%
Mississippi 1,255,654 22,961 2,236 10%
Rhode Island 503,723 5,140 -46
Total 150,645,641 6,080,429 1,502,652 25%

Mid-Skill, Mid-Wage Occupations on the Rise

The list of still-vibrant middle-wage jobs is long, and most typically require on-the-job training, work experience, or short-term certificates and degrees that community colleges specialize in. This includes customer service representatives (up 6%) and heavy/tractor-trailer truck drivers (up 7%), two occupations that have each added more than 118,000 estimated jobs since the start of 2010. Both offer solid, mid-tier earnings ($14.91 and $18.14 median hourly earnings, respectively).

Other examples of strong mid-wage occupations:

  • Machinists have the best combination of total jobs added from 2010 to 2013 (nearly 50,000) and percentage job growth (14%). This occupation is just one of several on-the-rebound production fields: computer controlled machine tool operators (17% growth since 2010), welders (11%), and inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers (8%) have also performed well post-recession.
  • The fastest-growing mid-wage jobs are clustered in energy fields, specifically oil and gas: roustabouts (38% growth since 2010), oil, gas, and mining service unit operators (38%), helpers of extraction workers (28%), and extraction workers, all other (22%). Next in percentage growth since 2010 are computer controlled machine tool operators (17%).

These occupations are the cream of the crop in terms of recent job growth, and there are dozens of other viable mid-wage professions.

Data for this post comes from Analyst, EMSI’s labor market data research tool. For more information on mid-skill, mid-wage jobs in your region, or for more information on EMSI, contact Josh Wright (jwright@economicmodeling.com). Follow Wright on Twitter at @ByJoshWright and EMSI at @DesktopEcon

11 Responses to “Middle-Wage Jobs That Have Survived, and the States That Are Fostering Them”

  1. Michael Kramer

    Great article… I was wondering which wage data point was used in this analysis… i.e. was it median wage or average? Thanks!

    • Joshua Wright

      Thanks, Michael. We used median hourly wages exclusively.

  2. Dr. Roderick Nunn

    Great article, Joshua. Thank you so much for providing an alternative view to the Fed article (Smith, 2013) which I continue to struggle with. From my perspective as a workforce professional, I would say that the classification of jobs used by the Fed article is somewhat unconventional, or at least, inconsistent with the “middle-skill” definitions many have used to describe local labor markets.

    The taxonomy used in the Smith research includes many jobs that require some education/training beyond high school in the “low-type” or “other” categories. Therein lies the problem. If you add those to his “middle-type” category, the results would be much different. Professions like truck drivers, electricians, carpenters, production workers, service techs, etc. make up a substantial portion of our local economy, pay a family supporting wage and have a strong future outlook. But, moreover they require technical education beyond high school but less than a four year degree — the conventional middle skill definition. By this standard, middle-skill jobs are maintaining their presence in local economies around the nation.

    Again, thanks for parsing this out and looking at the wages as a guidepost for analyzing the middle-skill trends. RN

    • Joshua Wright

      Thanks for your comment, Roderick. I think you’re spot-on about some of the lower-end occupations that can get in lumped with middle-skill analysis.

  3. Lesley Hirsch

    Josh, Did you or Autor adjust wage cutoffs to reflect differential cost-of-living? This point raised in a discussion on my organization’s LinkedIn Group, NYCLMIS. Thanks in advance, LH

    • Joshua Wright

      Hey, Lesley. I’m not sure about Autor’s study, but our analysis did not account for cost of living. It’s certainly something we were aware of, and something that would have an effect on the results. That said, the ranges we used provide a consistent and quick barometer to compare and contrast each state.

      Thanks for your comment. -Josh

  4. Gene H

    Is there any data on comparable percent job changes in the above wage categories for past recessions? I wonder if the 46%, 25%, 29% changes at this point in a recovery are normal or an aberration. I guess what I would really like to know is if this recovery is unique in its high number of low wage jobs it has created relative to the rest.

    Thanks and I continue to enjoy the blog immensely. VERY helpful to this high school teacher!!! :)

  5. Pearl Addu

    Thinking of setting up some of the mid level jobs training programs in New York City ,examples medical assistants ,physical therapy assistant, pharmacy technicians ,phlebotomist, certified nursing assistants and home health aides. Can you give me some information on how the New York market is doing in terms of finding jobs after training?

    • Joshua Wright

      Thanks for the comment, Pearl. I’ll be in touch with some data.