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There Are 30 Million 'Good' Jobs in the U.S. for People Without a Bachelor's Degree. Men Hold 70% of Them

Jul 26, 2017

Well-paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor's degree haven't gone extinct, but they do look different today than in the past. And yet the workers who hold these often coveted positions still look largely the same: They're white men.

There are an estimated 30 million “good jobs”—as defined by salary—for workers without a bachelor's degree, according to a report released Wednesday by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. And men hold 70% of those jobs, a gender imbalance that hasn't budged for the past two decades, according to the report.

As the U.S. has moved from an industrial economy to a post-industrial service economy, many experts have predicted that the shift would make the job market more "female friendly"—making the argument that women could compete more equally for jobs that required less brute strength. Yet among jobs for workers with more limited education, that change hasn't happened.

For women even more so than for men, "the bachelor's degree is the gold standard," says Anthony Carnevale, who directs the center and co-authored the report.

White workers also hold 65% of the good jobs for those with less than a bachelor's degree. Yet that share is down from 1991, when white workers held more than 80% of those jobs. (For the purposes of the report, the Georgetown researchers define a good job as one with a minimum salary of $35,000 for younger workers and $45,000 for workers aged 45 and over. Jobs that meet those standards have a median salary of $55,000.)

More broadly, the job market has shifted to favor those with more education. The share of good jobs held by workers without a bachelor's degree has declined from 60% of the job market in 1991 to 45% in 2015. In the years since the Great Recession alone, workers with bachelor's degrees have regained a total of 8.4 million jobs—almost three times the 3.2 million positions gained by workers with less education.

White male workers "were sort of standing in the wrong place at the wrong time," Carnevale says. "When technology and globalization came along, they took the brunt of the hit."

Manufacturing has lost 2.5 million good jobs since 1991, the report notes, while good jobs in health services and financial services—many of which rely on advanced and rapidly changing technology—have gained 1.4 million and 1 million, respectively. The number of good jobs held by workers holding an associate's degree has actually grown by 3 million—an 83% gain.

For younger workers coming through the education system today, there are still good jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree, such as property managers, nurses and home health aides, and computer support specialists. Yet without a bachelor's degree, Carnevale says, your odds of landing a good job get considerably slimmer.

If you earn a bachelor's degree, there's a 75% chance you'll get a well-paying job, he points out. With less than a bachelor's degree, that chance drops to 40%—and even more so than among educated workers, the difference comes down to the local job market and field of study.

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