Analysis, Commentary

CEPR Analysis: Tepid Blue Collar Job Growth Continues in the Rust Belt

Construction equipment
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Blue collar jobs as a percent of all jobs in the Rust Belt are virtually unchanged since the end of the recession.

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—March 13, 2018

By: Alan Barber

Unemployment rates did not increase in any of the 50 states in January. Six states saw rates go down and 44 states were stable. Nonfarm employment rose in three states, fell in one, and saw minor increases in the rest of the states..

In the Rust Belt, nonfarm employment rose by 0.1 percent, an addition of 20,100 jobs. The number of blue collar jobs in the region also rose by 0.1 percent, adding 3,400 jobs. These jobs in the construction, manufacturing, and the combined mining and logging industries accounted for 14.7 percent of total nonfarm jobs in the region in January of 2018, and as a share of nonfarm employment, have only increased 0.3 percent since the end of the last recession.


Construction employment fell in Pennsylvania (1.7 percent; 4,300 jobs), West Virginia (0.6 percent; 200 jobs), and Illinois (0.5 percent; 1,100 jobs) from December 2017 to January 2018. Indiana saw an increase of 1.7 percent or 2,400 jobs, followed by Ohio at 1.2 percent (2,600 jobs), Michigan at 0.8 percent (1,400 jobs) and Wisconsin at 0.7 percent (800 jobs). The region as a whole saw a 0.1 percent increase, an addition of 2,000 jobs. Nationwide, construction jobs grew by 0.6 percent for the month.


The number of manufacturing jobs in West Virginia fell by 0.4 percent or 200 jobs. This was followed by Michigan at -0.3 percent and Ohio at -0.2 percent. Iowa saw the largest growth at 0.6 percent, followed by Wisconsin at 0.4 percent, and New York at 0.2 percent. Despite this small uptick, New York is the only state in the region where manufacturing employment fell over the past year (down 0.6 percent). Manufacturing employment in the Rust Belt was 1.3 percent higher in January of 2018 than January 2017; nationally, manufacturing employment rose by 1.7 percent over this same time.

Mining and Logging

While mining and logging employment grew by 1.0 percent nationally in January, it decreased by 0.1 percent in the Rust Belt. The biggest gains were seen in West Virginia (2.8 percent), Wisconsin (2.2 percent) and Ohio (0.9 percent). All other states in the region lost jobs or saw no changes. The biggest decreases in mining and logging employment were in Iowa (4.2 percent), Pennsylvania (2.2 percent), Indiana (1.7 percent), and Michigan (1.4 percent). In the only states that track coal mining employment separately, coal mining jobs fell by 1.8 percent in Wyoming and 1.7 percent in Kentucky. The total number of coal mining jobs in Pennsylvania was unchanged. The combined industries of mining and logging account for less than 1.0 percent of total nonfarm employment in all of the Rust Belt states except West Virginia, where they are 3.0 percent of total nonfarm employment.

Alan Barber is Director of Domestic Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that was established to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people’s lives. CEPR was co-founded by economists Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot in 1999. CEPR’s Advisory Board includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Janet Gornick, Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and Director of the Luxembourg Income Study; and Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University.