Update: Knowledge Workers Do Matter

Last week we featured an analysis by Joel Kotkin that argued that the current emphasis on knowledge workers was misplaced.  He cited the growth in mining and manufacturing in the Midwest and South as indicators that economic development is still mostly about blue collar employment.   One thing to note in his analysis is that he was looking employment by industry, not by occupation.  As you probably know, one of the ways mining and manufacturing have become competitive is through technological innovation that replaces line production workers with technicians and programmers, otherwise known as knowledge workers.Occcupations

So we decided to take a look  at US employment by occupation over the last ten years to see what was going on there.  Our analysis looks at the last ten years for which data are available (2001 to 2011).  In 2011, workers in production, construction and extraction occupations made up about 10 percent of all workers, double that for workers in knowledge work (computers, mathematics, engineering and science).

So, in that sense, Kotkin is right:  production workers are a lot bigger piece of the employment picture than knowledge workers.  On the other hand, the average annual wage for production workers ranges from $34,000 to $44,000, while knowledge workers make between $67,000 and $79,000 on average.

But here’s where it really gets interesting:  When you look at the change in employment from 2001 to 2011, the number of production jobs dropped by 4 million, as those occupations fell from 13 percent of all jobs to 10 percent.  On the other hand, jobs for knowledge workers rose by about 400,000, increasing from 5.0 percent to 5.3 percent of the total workforce.  (NOTE:  the same holds true when you look only at production workers, leaving out the category of construction and extraction workers.)

So while old line industries are booming in some parts of the US (which is a good thing), some of that boom is fed by a growth of knowledge work within those industries and the overall trends still suggest a shift toward knowledge work.

Just thought you’d want to know.

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