A report out today says that with the right strategies, states in America's heartland can increase opportunities for residents to move into the middle class.
State of play: The American middle class has been declining for years as both upper- and lower-income groups have grown, creating a wider gap between the two.
- A strong middle class is recognized as important for economic stability, and to drive innovation, build businesses, and pay taxes.
The big picture: The report by Heartland Forward outlines how the 20 states in the center of the country can identify opportunity occupations — ones that pay enough for financial stability but don't require a four-year college degree — and create pathways to fill those jobs, especially outside major metro areas.
- Heartland Forward is a Bentonville-based think tank focused on improving economic performance in the 20-state region in the center of the U.S.
- Unique to this study is a dedicated effort to include opportunities in non-metro regions (areas with fewer than 50,000 residents), Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward, tells Axios.
- 17.5% of the U.S. population lives in non-metro areas.
What they did: The report uses data on wages, median incomes and job growth projections to identify jobs that provide a living wage without requiring higher education.
Details: Eight jobs come out on top across metro and non-metro regions of heartland states.
- Registered nurses
- Truck drivers
- Maintenance and repair workers
- Retail supervisors
- Bookkeeping, accounting clerks
- Construction laborers
- Secretaries, administrative assistants
- Customer service representatives
The intrigue: The authors found that non-metro areas have a larger percentage of jobs that qualify as opportunity occupations. That includes:
- Metal and plastic machine operators in Arkansas and Iowa
- Cooling and freezing equipment operators in Minnesota and Arkansas
- Farmworkers and laborers in Iowa
- Surface mining workers and manicurists/pedicurists in Tennessee
Yes, but: The authors point out the heartland is projected to have lower employment growth for the next five years, and many of the opportunity jobs will decline.
- However, the five-year projected rates in the heartland are better than the national projection.
What to watch: The report's authors urge policymakers to consider which occupations are projected for growth in their areas and make sure conditions are in place to provide career paths.
- Training, wage transparency, encouraging investment and making sure policies don't hinder growth industries are important factors.
- Plus: Vocational schools and community colleges should look to tie curriculum to the needs of employers in their regions, DeVol says.
What they're saying: The report isn't a complete economic blueprint for policymakers, but DeVol hopes they'll use it as a guide to develop a long-term strategy.
- "As the cost of obtaining a four-year degree rises, jobs in fields like health care, transportation and logistics offer appealing alternatives for workers who aspire to earn stable, middle-class wages," DeVol says.
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