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Region experiences shift in occupations

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Region experiences shift in occupations

Most work in white-collar jobs

February 27, 2004



Shedding the region's long-time smokestack image, more than half of the southeast Michigan workforce is holding white-collar jobs, according to U.S. government data released Thursday.

A total of 52.2 percent of the 1.14 million workers in the Detroit, Ann Arbor and Flint metropolitan areas are employed in professional or specialty jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Another 32.2 percent of jobs were classified as blue collar and 15.5 were considered service workers.

The figures were compiled between September 2002 and October 2003.

Back in January 1997, white-collar jobs accounted for 49 percent of the 1.4 million workers surveyed, blue-collar jobs were 33.7 percent and service jobs were 16.8 percent. The new data shows the region still is one of the best paying in the country. Workers averaged $22.41 per hour. White-collar workers averaged $26.90 per hour; blue-collar employees averaged $19.52.

The switch to a white-collar dominated workforce marks a significant shift for an area that's been considered a blue-collar hub since the start of the automotive age, a place where men and women working on assembly lines churned out everything from steel to car parts.

Don Grimes, senior research associate at the University of Michigan's Institute of Labor, said the change is a welcomed sign.

"One of the problems metro Detroit has had is being one of the slower areas to move away from blue-collar work," Grimes said. "Those areas that have been more successful economically have been Boston and Virginia because they are moving faster. Now, hopefully we have been catching up."

Grimes said most people think that manufacturing jobs mean better pay. However, it is the white-collar jobs that pay more over time.

"In a few years our incomes will be higher than they would be otherwise," he said. "I am not saying it won't be painful for the people who have to make the transition, but hopefully that transition will be quick and as painless as possible."

Although manufacturing still dominates Michigan's economy, the state is home to automotive research centers and companies focused on biotechnology, computer services, computer software and high-tech defense.

"This isn't a dumb place," said Ken Rogers, executive director of Automation Alley, a consortium of more than 500 southeast Michigan businesses that focus on technology. "This is a leading place for research and discovery centers in North America. We need to take the cover off these facts," Rogers said.

Other statistics released in the report:

  • Union blue-collar jobs averaged $21.72 per hour; pay for comparable nonunion jobs averaged $15.17.

  • Registered nurses average $25.83 an hour, bank tellers average $10.94, bus drivers average $15.15 and maids average $9.07.

  • Physicians are the highest-paid white-collar workers, averaging $55.41 an hour. The highest paid blue-collar worker is a plumber, at an average of $29.38 an hour.

The Labor Department surveyed 611 firms that employed 50 or more workers. It publishes the surveys and wage comparisons on its Web site,

Contact JEFF BENNETT at 313-222-8769 or [email protected]

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