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Wage Growth Picks Up In Some Rust Belt States; Number Of Blue Collar Jobs Sees Little Change – Analysis

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By Alan Barber*

Blue collar employment in the Rust Belt rose by just 0.05 percent in September. Compared to September of 2016, the total number of jobs in construction, manufacturing, and mining/logging has risen by 0.39 percent.

While the gains and losses were mixed overall, a state-by-state, sector-by-sector look gives a clearer picture of the blue collar jobs situation in the Rust Belt.

Manufacturing continues to make up the largest share of blue collar jobs in the region. The sector, which added 1,000 jobs last month, was 12 percent of the total number of jobs in the region. With the addition of 1,700 construction jobs (an increase of 0.11 percent), the sector accounted for 4.55 percent of all rust belt jobs. Mining and logging had the smallest impact on the regional economy. The addition of 300 jobs in September means the sector represented just 0.26 percent of total number of jobs as of September 2017 in the region.

Overall, the number of manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt states grew by just 0.2 percent or 1000 jobs. West Virginia saw an increase in manufacturing jobs of 0.88 percent (400 jobs), followed by Ohio at 0.38 percent (an increase of 2,600 manufacturing jobs in the state), and Wisconsin (0.25 percent or 1,200 jobs). The only states in the region to lose manufacturing jobs from August to September were Pennsylvania, where the total number of manufacturing jobs fell by 0.16 percent or 900 jobs, and Michigan, with a decrease of 0.81 percent or 4,900 jobs. New York may be experiencing a reprieve from its significant jobs loss in the manufacturing sector. While this marks positive, albeit slight jobs growth, employment is down by 3.92 percent compared to September of 2016, a loss of 17,700 jobs. Wages in the sector continued to grow at a modest rate in all of these states except Illinois, were wages again fell last month (0.74 percent year-over-year), and Michigan (fell 4.27 percent year-over-year).

Rust Belt job growth in the construction sector was mostly mixed in September. Pennsylvania led the way with a 1.65 percent increase (4,000 jobs) in the total number of construction jobs. Jobs in the sector grew by 1.07 percent in Wisconsin and by 0.8 percent in Michigan. The number of jobs decreased by 0.9 percent in Illinois, 0.78 percent in New York, and 0.53 percent in Iowa. Construction jobs in the Rust belt in total have increased slightly (0.93 percent or 14,300 jobs) compared to last year, but as stated earlier, these jobs in the sector are a minor share of the total employment in the region. Construction wages in the Rust Belt continued to grow, led by Ohio with an increase in the average hourly wage of 5.5 percent compared to September of 2016, followed by Indiana (5.35 percent), and West Virginia (3.5 percent).

There was little change in the number of mining and logging jobs. The largest fall off was a drop of 2.44 percent (200 jobs) in Illinois. At the other end of the spectrum, the number of jobs in the sector grew by 1.61 percent in Indiana, an increase of 100 jobs. The BLS only tracks coal mining data in the states of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, and here, the number of jobs was flat or continued to fall. The number of coal jobs fell by 2.04 percent in Pennsylvania, 1.82 percent in Wyoming, and there was no change in Kentucky for the month. While the number of coal mining jobs in Kentucky rose to 6000 from February to April of 2017, the state currently has the same number of coal mining jobs (5,600) as was the case in September of 2016. Compared to last year, Pennsylvania has added 200 coal jobs (an increase of 4.35 percent), and Wyoming has lost 100 (a decrease of 1.82 percent).

While the total number of blue collar jobs in the Rust Belt did increase slightly, the number of jobs added in these sectors were just 16.8 percent of the total jobs added in the region for the month. One positive sign is that several states saw an increase in wage growth. This increase is consistent with the fact that wages have grown nationwide since 2014. However, we have yet to see the large uptick in blue collar jobs promised by the Trump administration, particularly in the mining sector.

*Alan Barber is Director of Domestic Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C. Dean Baker is Co-director at CEPR.


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The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) promotes democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives.

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