“That’s one of the most painful aspects of the economic decline of these manufacturing centers: They get hit twice,” said Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “First, they lose the factories. But second, and most importantly, they lose everyone who was supportive of those factories.”
It’s that second hit that increasingly matters nearly four decades since U.S. manufacturing employment peaked. Without a foundation of white collar jobs, it becomes difficult for these areas to reinvent themselves in an era when the economy more and more requires specialized knowledge and technological skill.
“It’s painful because it makes it even harder for the community to recover,” Moretti said.
Trump had rallied voters on the promise that he would restore factory jobs to revive areas that had lost them. But the data show how higher-paying occupations are abandoning smaller cities, taking with them a generation of workers who could otherwise start new companies or serve existing businesses.
The AP reviewed data on employment by occupations from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and compared metro area figures with national averages. Jobs that were categorized as white collar include managerial, administrative and sales positions. Blue-collar occupations include production, craft, machine operation and transportation positions.
White-collar workers are increasingly shifting from smaller cities and settling in such thriving metro areas as Seattle, Nashville, Chicago and Silicon Valley. As those higher-paying occupations become more highly concentrated, the wealth they generate is less likely to filter through the rest of the country to areas with a long-standing legacy of manufacturing. And while Trump and other political leaders vow to boost businesses with tax cuts, lower taxes may do little for communities with fewer white collar workers who could plow them into new businesses.