Blue Collar vs. White Collar Wages

By Susan Johnston
There's always been a rivalry between the blue-collar and white-collar workers of the world. Which ones have better job opportunities, which are paid better and, more recently, whose wages are recovering faster post-recession? Certainly, both blue and white-collar workers saw wages plummet during the economic downturn, when both finance and construction took a hit, but recent wages studies show varied results on who is bouncing back quicker in terms of earnings.

According to The PayScale Index, a study of changes in wages for full-time, private employees, results are mixed. And as Kathi Meyers, a Director in Buck Consultants’ Compensation Practice, points out, most of these small wage increases represent “a rebound to what we saw pre-recession,” not a dramatic shift. Here’s a look at the blue-collar and white-collar industries where wages are starting to bounce back, based on The PayScale Index data from first quarter of 2010 compared to the same period this year. Also included is a job position in each industry and the current salary or hourly rate for that job.

Blue Collar

1. Utilities: .6% increase
As interest in energy and utilities heats up, so does the industry. In fact, fourth quarter of last year saw wage increases of 1 percent compared to that same period in 2009. And according to Buck Consultant’s 2011 Compensation Survey, the median pay increase in the energy/utilities sector this year is expected to be around 3 percent, a welcomed raise for workers in the utilities industry.
Utility clerk: $11.69 per hour

2. Mining: .5% increase
Fortunately, mainly for blue collar mining workers, wages in this sector have been improving since second quarter of last year, and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that unemployment among miners dropped from 9.4 percent in April, 2010 to 3.5 percent in April of this year. “Unemployment and salaries are related,” explains Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at PayScale. “When unemployment is high, there are too many hungry people ready to take your job.”
Service Unit Operator, Oil, Gas, and Mining: $43,600

3. Manufacturing: .5% increase
The recession hit this mostly blue-collar industry hard, and unemployment remains close to the national average, according to BLS. “Manufacturing was beat up in much the same way as construction,” says Lee. “But it’s pulled itself back together.” He attributes this recovery to several things. First, smaller manufacturing companies are selling internationally and computer sales are turning around. Also, government intervention in the auto industry has helped automakers remain afloat. “Put it all together,” adds Lee, “and it’s not like manufacturing is running way ahead, but it’s a sector that is stabilizing.”
Production scheduler: $52,200

White Collar

4. Finance and Insurance: .5% increase
Although the recession hit the finance and insurance industry hard, wages have been slowly increasing since first quarter of last year, partly thanks to government intervention. “Areas that have had the most government help are leading the pack [to recovery],” explains James Hatch, partner-in-charge of the Human Capital Practice at accounting firm EisnerAmper. Higher executive compensation is also trickling down to other positions thanks to “pressure from the rank and file,” adds Hatch. Of course, executive compensation also includes stock options, so as the market improves, so does the value of that stock and executives’ overall compensation.
Insurance underwriter: $54,700

5. Information, Media & Telecommunications: .4% increase
According to Lee, the government created this category to cover industries that “publish” software, books, magazines, and other items. Trouble is, these individual industries perform very differently. On one hand, many tech companies are flourishing. “Facebook and Google are battling each other for talent,” says Joel Capperella, Vice President for Yoh, a talent and outsourcing provider that recently released the Q1 Yoh Index of Technology Wages. “We’re seeing [wages] rebound, and there’s a lot of capital that tech funds have on hand. Just look at the Skype acquisition where they paid $8.5 billion in cash.” But newspapers, book publishers, and magazines aren’t faring as well, which drives down the average wages in this category.
Telecommunications analyst: $65,300

6. Professional, Scientific & Tech Services: .3% increase
Like information, media and telecommunications, professional, scientific and tech services is a mixed bag with varying levels of wage stability. “It’s a collection of related fields including networking and software consultants, but also lawyers and architects, who not been doing so well,” says Lee. As construction slowed down during the recession, some architecture firms have seen a drop in business, he adds. “But technical services like engineering, planning for large scale projects, are picking up again.”
Architect (but not Landscape or Naval): $54,700

Source: All salary data is provided by PayScale.com. Salaries listed are for full-time, private employees with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.
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