by Joshua Wright, EMSI

The emergence of in-demand jobs that require a community college education or less but pay well—sometimes extremely well—is a big story, and a timely one with President Obama unveiling a plan to make community college free for millions of students. USA TODAYstarted a major series on jobs, using EMSI data, by focusing on these middle-skill fields. And The Wall Street Journal wrote this week about a 24-year-old Texan who made $140,000 in 2014 as a welder after graduating from Texas State Technical College.

Stories of welders earning $140,000 or petrochemical processing operators taking home $100,000, as USA TODAY highlighted, make for compelling anecdotes to show it doesn’t take a four-year degree to land a good career and comfortable income. And to be sure, there are jobs to be had and money to be made in the rapidly aging skilled trades.

It’s always helpful, though, to ground a discussion in data, and EMSI’s wage data shows that the hourly earnings for most skilled trades workers—even for the top 10th percentile of earners—are more modest than these big, overtime-filled salaries indicate.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 9.34.46 AM

Consider the high-end hourly wages for welders across the country. Welders in the top 10th percentile make the most in Alaska, at $43.83 per hour. Hawaii and North Dakota are not far behind ($39.75 and $39.05, respectively).

Top-end welders in these states make $83,000 to $91,000 per year if they work full time (40 hours per week for 52 weeks). The really attractive salaries come after lots of overtime, as in the case of the young worker, Justin Friend, that the WSJ featured. Friend works 72 hours a week and makes $25 per hour in regular wages, the story noted. That’s way above the median hourly wage for welders in Texas ($17.29), and it’s not far from the top tier ($29.25).

From 2009 to 2013, Texas added 28% of all net new welding jobs, more than 7,300 in all. It also had nearly double the number of welding jobs as the state with the second-most welders, California (47,000 to 25,600).

State Welders’ Median Hourly Earnings Welders’ Top 10th Percentile Hourly Earnings 2009 Jobs 2013 Jobs 2009 – 2013 Change 2009 – 2013 % Change 2013 Location Quotient
Source: EMSI 2014.4 Class of Worker (QCEW Employees)
Alaska $33.97 $43.83 589 667 78 13% 0.78
Hawaii $31.10 $39.75 485 453 (32) (7%) 0.28
North Dakota $20.68 $39.05 1,665 2,633 968 58% 2.36
West Virginia $18.21 $37.88 2,510 2,627 117 5% 1.43
Wyoming $22.18 $35.23 1,946 2,125 179 9% 2.90
Nevada $17.73 $34.38 1,806 1,680 (126) (7%) 0.55
New Mexico $19.10 $33.99 1,874 2,040 166 9% 0.99
Maryland $20.51 $33.55 2,652 2,450 (202) (8%) 0.37
California $18.54 $31.56 25,010 25,657 647 3% 0.64
Delaware $21.74 $31.32 310 269 (41) (13%) 0.25
District of Columbia $26.81 $31.30 123 107 (16) (13%) 0.06
New Jersey $19.82 $31.28 3,084 2,839 (245) (8%) 0.28
Washington $20.55 $30.69 6,597 7,016 419 6% 0.91
Massachusetts $21.48 $30.57 2,950 2,938 (12) (0%) 0.34
Colorado $18.44 $29.91 4,274 4,767 493 12% 0.78
Connecticut $19.19 $29.55 2,236 2,168 (68) (3%) 0.51
Texas $17.29 $29.25 39,661 47,022 7,361 19% 1.63
Louisiana $20.17 $28.45 13,801 14,639 838 6% 2.96
New York $17.91 $28.29 7,637 7,106 (531) (7%) 0.31
Montana $16.23 $27.93 921 1,119 198 21% 0.98
Maine $22.18 $27.88 2,014 2,031 17 1% 1.32
New Hampshire $19.83 $27.56 1,026 1,009 (17) (2%) 0.62
Utah $17.25 $27.36 4,071 4,586 515 13% 1.40
Rhode Island $20.27 $27.33 846 838 (8) (1%) 0.70
Arizona $17.92 $27.30 3,709 3,833 124 3% 0.59
Virginia $18.86 $27.22 4,961 4,681 (280) (6%) 0.49
Mississippi $18.63 $26.98 6,937 7,042 105 2% 2.46
Oklahoma $17.29 $26.93 8,489 10,393 1,904 22% 2.55
Indiana $16.59 $26.73 11,566 13,512 1,946 17% 1.81
Minnesota $18.64 $26.69 7,968 8,995 1,027 13% 1.28
Pennsylvania $18.06 $26.22 17,043 17,610 567 3% 1.20
North Carolina $17.65 $26.03 8,039 8,368 329 4% 0.81
Florida $16.88 $25.87 12,138 12,321 183 2% 0.63
Michigan $16.56 $25.84 9,982 11,765 1,783 18% 1.12
Oregon $18.94 $25.47 3,966 4,272 306 8% 0.97
Wisconsin $18.16 $25.35 11,829 13,006 1,177 10% 1.83
Alabama $17.11 $25.19 3,994 3,667 (327) (8%) 0.76
Illinois $17.15 $25.14 13,996 14,222 226 2% 0.96
Kentucky $16.98 $24.49 6,617 7,266 649 10% 1.56
Ohio $16.99 $24.42 14,305 15,309 1,004 7% 1.15
South Carolina $16.74 $24.14 5,775 6,056 281 5% 1.25
Idaho $16.12 $23.86 1,928 2,252 324 17% 1.37
Missouri $16.67 $23.77 6,742 7,095 353 5% 1.03
Kansas $16.10 $23.55 4,844 5,537 693 14% 1.58
Georgia $16.25 $23.40 7,920 8,350 430 5% 0.81
Tennessee $16.69 $22.75 6,984 7,802 818 12% 1.11
Vermont $16.63 $22.57 414 396 (18) (4%) 0.50
Nebraska $16.51 $22.56 1,642 1,718 76 5% 0.70
Arkansas $16.28 $22.42 4,506 4,845 339 8% 1.62
Iowa $16.62 $22.10 6,934 8,354 1,420 20% 2.13
South Dakota $15.33 $19.54 2,228 2,887 659 30% 2.73
Nation $17.81 $27.20 323,544 350,338 26,794 8%

Alaska and Hawaii are outliers. Median earnings in both states are above what the top 10th percentile make in 39 states. This is probably due to the scarce supply of welding talent in both states; fewer potential workers mean employers have to pay higher wages.

A scarcity of welders is also partly driving the huge amount of overtime that certain workers are getting. But since the oil and gas surge sparked so much of the demand for welders, among other skilled trades, it will be interesting to see what the plunge in oil prices does to the job prospects (and wages) of these workers.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)