When reviewing cities for potential investment opportunities within commercial real estate (CRE), reviewing their working populations can be enlightening. For example, cities that are favorites with the nation’s blue-collar workers may affect the value of its CRE in several ways.
If you’re wondering where the term “blue collar" originated, here’s the background: Workers in manufacturing and construction often wore durable blue fabrics such as denim and chambray.
Today’s blue-collar jobs are varied, with many positions in manufacturing, food service, farming, and construction. While white-collar workers are perceived as earning higher wages than their blue-collar counterparts, this isn’t always true.
Some examples of highly-paid blue-collar professionals, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Considering that the United States has seen meager unemployment rates during the past two years, with the average rate between 3.5% and 3.7% during much of 2022, it’s worth looking at how these statistics have affected blue-collar wages.
When reviewing wage trends from January 2021 through March 2023, it’s clear that blue-collar worker salaries saw some of the highest gains:
While these are national averages, some blue-collar workers in some states and cities are better off than others.
When choosing the best cities, we will consider the number of job opportunities for blue-collar workers compared to white-collar workers, together with pay, benefits, and cost of living.
|Rank||City and State||Median Blue Collar Wage||% of Blue Collar Jobs||% Cost of Living Above or Below National Average|
|2||Fort Wayne, Indiana||$45,000||42.24%||-11%|
|5||Buffalo/Cheektowaga, New York||$47,000||32%||-5%|
|6||Rochester, New York||$40,012||30.85%||-17%|
|8||Oklahoma City, Oklahoma||$44,000||30.70%||-16%|
In addition to the median income for blue-collar workers at $48,000, the cost of living for Springfield is 19.4% below the national average.
Additionally, 36% of the jobs in Springfield are blue-collar jobs. Union membership is higher than other cities within the region at around 15%.
An exciting aspect of life here is the state’s willingness to protect certain types of workers. For example, House Bill 3940 ensured dealership mechanics were paid fairly for skilled labor.
Even within the former Rust Belt, Fort Wayne’s blue-collar workers earn a median wage of around $45,000 per annum. This may be partially due to the low union membership of around 10%. However, the cost of living here is 11% below the national average, and unemployment here dipped below 3% as long ago as 1998.
42% of the jobs in Fort Wayne are blue-collar jobs. Top employers for blue-collar workers in Fort Wayne include ??Steel Dynamics, one of the nation’s largest steel producers and recyclers, and Franklin Electric, a producer of water and fuel movement products.
Detroit has more than recovered from the dismal 1970s: Blue-collar workers are vital in the city’s revitalization efforts, working in the construction and automotive industries, plus public transportation. Currently, the blue-collar jobs in the city add up to over 41% of the 2.5 million jobs in Detroit.
Along with neighboring cities Dearborn and Warren, blue-collar workers earn $50,000 annually, above the median wage for non-blue-collar staff. Union membership is around 16%.
The cost of living in Detroit is 4% higher than the national average, with housing costing 25% more than the national average. Goods and services are also about 5% higher.
With over 34% of Birmingham’s workers in blue-collar jobs, many work in manufacturing and construction. The state is home to Vulcan Materials, a major producer of construction materials such as gravel and crushed stone.
The median wage is somewhat lower than others, with blue-collar workers’ salaries averaging $39,000 and all workers’ average at $45,000. However, the cost of living is 20% below the national average.
This western New York City and its suburb Cheektowaga are home to a workforce where over 32% hold blue-collar jobs. Their median wage is similar to other local workers, just over $47,000, and over 20% hold union memberships.
Many workers are employed by grocery chains Wegmans and Tops Markets. Another large employer, Moog, manufactures electric, electro-hydraulic, and hydraulic motion controls and systems for the aerospace, defense, industrial, and medical industries.
The cost of living in Buffalo/Cheektowaga is 5% lower than the national average.
Rochester’s blue-collar workers earn an average of $40,012, almost identical to the city’s $40,245 median income. While this is lower than other states, the union membership rate is 23%, and the city’s cost of living is 17% lower than the national average.
31% of the jobs in Rochester are blue-collar jobs. While the founder of Eastman Kodak, George Eastman, wasn’t born in Rochester, he moved there to launch the company that still hires blue-collar workers. Other employers include Home Depot, Amazon, and gearing specialist Gleason.
Gillette’s blue-collar workers make the highest average wages in the nation: over $56,000 per annum, just ahead of Arizona. Throughout mid-2023, trainee positions for freight railway conductors in nearby Sheridan were offered a $15,000 signing bonus and $70,000 to $80,000 salaries.
Construction companies employ around 7.5% of the workforce, closely followed by mining and logging companies. The state provides over 30% of the nation’s coal. Workers enjoy the mountain scenery, a below-average cost of living of less than 1.9% national average, and a small-town lifestyle.
With over 30% of Oklahoma City’s population holding blue-collar jobs, the median wage for these workers is almost identical to all workers in this city: just over $44,000 per annum.
Blue-collar workers here are employed mainly by the manufacturing, energy, aviation, and aerospace industries. In addition, Oklahoma City boasts a cost of living that’s 16% under the national average. Housing costs come in at 29% under the national average.
The city is also home to JTC Trades, which supports new workers by arranging apprenticeships and training for construction, carpentry, welding, and more jobs.
Opportunities for blue-collar jobs are easy to find in Anchorage, and with median wages at just over $50,000 per annum, it’s a popular destination.
30% of the jobs in Anchorage are blue-collar jobs. Some major employers, such as Chugach Alaska Corporation, were created after the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.
Union membership in Anchorage is 19%, with over 50 different unions in the city. However, the cost of living can be higher, with necessities costing about 20% more. The overall cost of living in Anchorage is 27% higher than the national average.
This city is home to one of the nation’s biggest percentages of blue-collar workers, with 30.65% of the locals in these jobs. While median wages aren’t the highest in the country, averaging $45,000, increased demand for these workers enables them to negotiate successfully.
The city’s major employers include Alcoa and U.S. Steel; union membership is around 13%. The cost of living is the same as the national average (0% difference).
These top 10 cities showcase the diverse opportunities and benefits available to blue-collar workers in different regions across the United States. From competitive wages and low cost of living to job availability and supportive industries, these cities present attractive prospects for individuals seeking stable and fulfilling blue-collar careers.
To determine the top 10 cities in America for blue-collar workers, we collected data on median blue-collar wages, the percentage of blue-collar jobs, and the cost of living for different cities. Based on the selection criteria of job opportunities, pay, and cost of living, we analyzed the data and ranked the cities, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst cities for blue-collar workers.