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Excerpts from Financial Advice for Blue Collar America

From the Introduction

The basics of financial health cut across all walks of life and all levels of wealth. Sound financial behavior involves spending less than you earn, saving money for the future, managing the risks of life with the right amount of insurance, legally minimizing taxes, and investing the money you save wisely. Why this book then, with a focus on blue collar workers? And what does blue collar mean?

 

In categorizing people, you risk stereotyping and thus minimizing their unique and valuable characteristics. However, distinct groups share common problems, and it’s helpful to find answers to that particular set of questions in one place. Blue collar workers sometimes find themselves in the enviable position of having great income but lacking access to pertinent financial information that answers their specific questions. You can find that information here.

 

For the purposes of this book, “blue collar” means people who do more physical work than desk work at jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree. I’m talking about skilled, trained workers who perform jobs that require the use of their bodies and their physical energy in addition to their brains. That job set includes trades people (carpenters, ironworkers, cement masons, pipefitters, operators, laborers, etc.); transportation workers (truck drivers, public transportation workers); automotive technicians; radiological and other technicians; workers in the oil and gas industry; healthcare technicians; police and safety workers; enlisted military personnel; and others. I also include manufacturing (factory) work to some extent, although some portion of factory work falls into an unskilled category that this book doesn’t address. Many of the blue collar jobs presented here require extensive training and apprenticeships, but none require a bachelor’s degree. In this book, I focus on these types of jobs; other categories such as retail workers, food service workers, etc. perform valuable services and can certainly benefit from the concepts covered in this book, but their needs and concerns are not specifically addressed here. Also, at one time, nurses didn’t need to have college degrees and made up most of the female portion of the blue collar workforce, but today’s nurses must have college degrees. Other health care workers who require training but no college degree fall into this definition of blue collar.

 

Americans began using the phrase “white collar” as early as 1910; the term “blue collar” came into existence around 1924. Both phrases gained traction after World War II. For those who have only a passing knowledge of what “blue collar” means, a general sense that blue collar jobs are dying or dead sometimes prevails. That sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. Although the U.S. has become a “service economy” where we focus more on doing things for people than on making things, our need for people who physically work to build, create, maintain, and repair tangible objects is actually thriving. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that by 2020, 25% of new jobs will be in construction, healthcare, and trades.  The jobs are out there now, and more will be available in the future. It makes sense: no matter how many phone apps we use or how much entertainment we view, we will continue to need buildings to sit in, vehicles to move us, roads to drive on, and appliances to work for us. All of those useful items eventually break or wear out, and many systems and services need human decision-making to complement robotic technology.

What kind of jobs are out there in the blue collar work world? In 2016 and for the future, there are lots of interesting, high-paying, enduring blue collar careers. These jobs cut across many different types of industries and economic sectors. The first eight blue collar jobs on the following list have the most workers nationwide (2014 data) ; the remaining jobs show pay rates for other great blue collar jobs:

 

1. Maintenance mechanic ($40,687 or $19.56 per hour)

2. Aircraft mechanic ($56,850 or $28.29 per hour)

3. Transportation maintenance ($65,770 or $31.62 per hour)

4. Heavy mobile mechanic ($51,778 or $20.38 per hour)

5. Motor vehicle operator ($45,000 or $21.64 per hour)

6. Electronics mechanic ($52,420 or $25.21 per hour)

7. Electrician ($52,910 or $25.44 per hour)

8. Gas plant operator ($63,398.40 or $30.48 per hour)

9. Electrical power-line installer and repairer ($64,990 or $31.24 per hour)

10. Nuclear power reactor operator ($82,270 or $39.55 per hour)

11. Elevator installer and repairer ($76,490 or $36.77 per hour)

12. Police officer ($52,576 or $25.27 per hour)

 

Those rates are real eye-openers since many of us won’t ever make that much money in a year even if we have college degrees and often even if we have a master’s degree or PhD. Recent statistics reveal the depressing reality that as many as 40% of college graduates work at a job that doesn’t require a college degree while also experiencing a drop in incomes from their peers of the last decade.

 

Another unfortunate – and inaccurate – meaning that has attached itself somewhat to the term blue collar is the concept of those workers as “lower class” or “uneducated.” The media sometimes portrays blue collar workers as gullible country bumpkins. These characteristics couldn’t be further from the truth. As I show in Chapter 6 of this book, blue collar workers possess intelligence and skills on a par with college-educated workers. Additionally, blue collar workers understand what it means to work hard and to make meaningful contributions.

 

Jeff Torlina, author of Working Class: Challenging Myths about Blue Collar Labor  and advocate for blue collar workers, writes that “blue collar work in working-class culture…cannot be understood in simplistic terms. Not only is work multidimensional, with its meaning understood according to a number of factors, but it is also both negative and positive – often at the very same time and in a variety of ways.”   He goes on to stress the vital connection that blue collar workers have to their jobs that can be missing in white collar occupations: “to the blue-collar workers interviewed, it was simply obvious that they perform work that is necessary, important, and worthy of respect. They see the entire process of production and recognize that every aspect of the production process is essential for it to work.”  In any job, one individual may find greater purpose and meaning than others in the same field, but the blue collar worker often gets a more tangible opportunity to feel like an important part of the team.

 

Although there are many advantages to a blue collar career as I discuss in this book, in no way do I mean to discourage my readers or their children who want to go to college. A four-year college education can open doors for exciting careers and good salaries. However, it’s simply not the only path to success.

 

Life is good in the blue collar world. Let’s talk about ways to make it even better.