People don't have to complete college to find well-paying jobs. But the competition is stiff and the need for post-high-school training is high.

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The Great American Jobs Machine once provided a ladder up. That’s the story, and it’s largely true. Low-skilled immigrants or kids from farms might get a basic factory job and learn skills, working their way up to higher responsibilities and better pay. Little formal schooling was required. There was even a name for the outcome: The blue-collar gentry.

This has been badly battered by many things, among them companies merged away, the decline of manufacturing, unions busted, automation, offshoring of jobs, redistribution of income up to shareholders, and the rise of the knowledge economy. But fairly good jobs remain for those without a bachelor’s degree, an estimated 30 million paying at least $35,000 a year in 2015.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. “In today’s labor market, the pathways to good jobs have become more complex,” it says. “The brightest economic prospects for workers without BAs are found more and more in skilled-services industries, such as healthcare and financial services, in which some college education has become much more important.”

Washington ranked No. 13 in the raw numbers of these jobs, in line with its population ranking. But it also scored No. 12 in the share of such positions, where many populous states fall down the list. Wyoming, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut and Utah were at the top in share.

Those 30 million jobs are an improvement from 27 million in 1991. Unfortunately, the labor force has expanded and some 75 million adults lacked a college degree (the total number aged 25 to 64 labor force was 123 million) in 2015. Between 1991 and 2015, the share of these “good jobs” going to those without a bachelor’s degree declined from 60 percent to 45 percent. Almost all of the fall comes from manufacturing losses.

The report concludes, “To compete effectively, workers need some level of postsecondary education and training. In addition, a variety of non-degree credentials are sometimes necessary to get those jobs, or to advance in them.” You can read the entire study here.


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