A report from Georgetown Public Policy Institute punctures the widespread belief that a college degree is essential to earning a middle class income. “Five Ways that Pay on the Way to the B.A.” highlights a handful of pathways to “middle jobs” — those that require more education or training than a high school diploma but less than a college degree, and pay a middle-class income of $35,000 per year or more.
“There are 29 million middle jobs in the United States today,” the report said. “In a labor market with roughly 139 million jobs and 61 million jobs that pay at least middle-class wages, one in every five jobs — and nearly half of all jobs that pay at least middle-class wages — are middle jobs. Over 11 million middle jobs pay $50,000 or more annually, and 4 million pay $75,000 or more.”
Middle jobs look even better when compared with the ones high school graduates with no other training can get. The report said that in the past decade, recent high school graduates’ wages fell by 12 percent to just $19,400 annually in 2011. That’s below the poverty line for a family of four.
For recent graduates with no other training, it gets worse. One in four young high school graduates was unemployed in the past year, and more than half were underemployed.
Over the past 40 years, the job market has changed, increasing the need for post-secondary education. In 1970, three-quarters of middle-class workers held only a high school diploma or less. By 2007, only two-fifths of middle-class workers had just a high school diploma or less.
Obtaining the right career technical education to land a middle job can be a gateway to life in the U.S. middle class, the report said. And, middle jobs can be a springboard toward financing a four-year college degree.
The five pathways to middle jobs outlined in the report are: employer-based training, industry-based certifications, apprenticeships, post-secondary certificates and associate’s degrees.
The U.S. Department of Labor sponsors a website called “My Next Move” to help young people explore career options in many fields linked to middle jobs. At the site, learners can match their interests with possible careers, and learn what the employment prospects are for various job fields. Jobs that can be entered through paid apprentice programs are highlighted, and the apprentice programs can be searched by state.
The “Five Ways” report concludes with two policy recommendations. The first is that the federal government invests in career technical education programs that align high school post-secondary curriculums, allow for dual enrollment and create opportunities for students to earn while they learn.
The second recommendation is that an information system should be created so that transcript information can be linked with employer wage records. It’s an idea that struck a chord with Fordham Institute education blogger Daniela Fairchild.
“By tracking (students’) job placements and wage earnings, we can begin to rate CTE programs, shutter those that are ineffective, and scale up those that are successful,” Fairchild wrote. “If CTE is ever to gain traction in the U.S. — and shed the stigma of being low-level voc-tech education for kids who can’t quite make it academically — this will be a necessary first step.”