How many jobs in the United States are actually paying workers a living wage?
An FKD Feature exclusive

In 1991, there were 27 million good jobs in the U.S. for workers without bachelor’s degrees, and in 2015, that number jumped to 30 million. Though that statistic looks promising, there are still millions of workers — both with and without bachelor’s degrees — who cannot find good jobs.

How many good jobs are there?

A study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, published last week, brought this change to light. The study found that the number of good jobs for people without a four-year college degree has increased over the last 24 years, despite a decline in the manufacturing industry.

Though there are now 3 million more good jobs than there were in 1991, the labor market has also grown. In 1991, noncollege graduates claimed 60 percent of good jobs; in 2015, they accounted for only 45 percent.

There are 36 million good jobs for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, overshadowing the 30 million that are available for non-bachelor’s degree-holding workers. However, with a labor force of 123 million workers aged 25 to 64, the U.S. still lacks 57 million good jobs, for both workers with and without bachelor’s degrees.

What jobs are considered “good?”

A good job was defined by Georgetown researchers as a job that pays a minimum of $35,000 ($17 per hour for a full-time job) to workers under the age of 45. For workers age 45 and older, a good job pays $45,000 ($22 per hour for a full-time job).

Of these 30 million good jobs for people without a bachelor’s degree, 16 million of them pay more than $55,000 a year, 8 million pay between $45,000 and $55,000, and 6 million pay between $35,000 and $45,000.

In the past, good jobs were found almost entirely in manufacturing and other blue-collar industries. However, as these industries modernized, the loss of blue-collar jobs was offset by an increase of openings in service-skilled industries, such as healthcare and finance.

Who gets these good jobs?

Men, whites and high-school educated workers still claim the largest shares of good jobs, maintaining their hold on these jobs since 1991.

In 2015, 70 percent of these good jobs went to men without bachelor’s degrees, and the remaining 30 percent went to women. This severe gap may partially explain why more women attend college than men.

Whites occupied the largest share of non-bachelor’s good jobs in 2015, claiming 67 percent of them. This is less than the 83 percent that whites previously claimed in 1991, but 67 percent is still significantly higher than the second-largest share.

Hispanic workers without bachelor’s occupy 16 percent of good jobs, and black workers have 11 percent. Both of these groups had more of these good jobs in 2015 than they did in 1991, but the increases weren’t exceptional. Hispanic and black workers without bachelor’s saw 10 and 2 percent increases, respectively, over the 24-year period.

Roughly a third of these good jobs were found in the five most populous states in 2015 — California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois — but Wyoming was the state that had the largest share of good jobs.

In the least-populated state, 49.9 percent of jobs for non-bachelor’s degree-holders were considered good jobs, likely due to Wyoming’s booming natural-resource based industries. When looking at state’s shares of good jobs, rather than the sheer amount available, Wyoming, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut took the top spots.


With a ratio of 2.5 non-bachelor’s workers to each good non-bachelor’s job, there’s a clear discrepancy between the number of workers and the number of available good jobs. But this problem affects workers at every educational level; there are only 66 million good jobs available for a workforce of 123 million people. This lack of good jobs means that there are 45 million workers without a bachelor’s, and 12 million workers with a bachelor’s, who have been left outside of the equation.

To propel more Americans into the middle class, the U.S. needs to focus on creating more jobs that pay a living wage for workers at every educational level.

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Header image: Adobe Stock


Posted 08.10.2017 - 03:04 pm EDT