Following the inaugural survey of America’s blue collar workers in 2018, Express Employment Professionals has partnered once again with The Harris Poll to learn more about how today’s white collar workers compare with blue collar employees and those who fall in the middle-grey collar professions.
Despite a similar outlook of the future, regardless of collar color, the survey revealed American workers have substantial student loan debt, are not saving enough for retirement, but feel their jobs provide a good living for the present.
Grey Collar Work?
Grey collar work combines some of the manual labor aspects of blue collar work but also has components of white collar work. For the purposes of this study, Harris defines grey collar workers as working in jobs such as, airline pilot or flight attendant, farmer or land manager, certified or licensed salesperson, clergy, childcare worker, engineer, firefighter, paralegal, military, teacher or non-physician healthcare professional.
Grey collar industries emerged as the forgotten workforce when comparing demographics and sentiments between the traditional stereotypical white and blue collar jobs. But with 40% of grey collar workers expecting substantial job growth in their fields over the coming years, they are an important segment to survey in order to accurately capture American employment data as a whole.
College: Was it Worth it?
For workers with a high-school diploma or less, more than half look back and wish they had a four-year degree or attended a community college or vocational school. Seventy-nine percent of grey collar workers and 72% of blue collar workers believe they would have had more opportunities if they had attended college.
For those with a college degree, more than 1 in 3 grey collar workers, 35%, and almost 1 in 4 white collar workers, 24%, say they think the higher education they received is absolutely essential to their current job. In fact, most college graduates, 79% grey collar and 70% white collar, think going to college was worth every penny.
However, some college-educated workers express regret about their decision, wishing they had attended community college, vocational school or had gone straight into the workforce instead (46% blue collar, 31% white collar, 30% grey collar). Nearly 1 in 3 college graduates say they have too much student loan debt (32% grey collar, 31% white collar) and cannot find a good job despite their college degree (33% white collar, 28% grey collar). Eighteen percent of white collar workers and 16% of grey collar workers have at least $25,000 worth of student loan debt, and those with student loans estimate it will take approximately seven to eight years to pay it off.
Retirement: Saving for the Future
While blue, grey and white collar workers are still paying off student loans, 62% of blue collar, 45% of grey and 40% of white collar workers also say they have less than $5,000 saved in case of an emergency. White collar workers are the most likely segment to have a larger fund of $25,000 or more saved for emergencies, 33%, with only 24% of grey collar and 11% of blue collar workers reporting the same amount.
The majority of all workers are worried about saving enough for retirement (73% blue collar, 62% white collar, 59% grey collar) and only about half of workers are currently setting aside money for the later years (58% white collar, 53% grey collar). Blue collar workers are the group least likely to save for the future at only 42%.
Content in the Present
But for now, job satisfaction is high among most workers. Eighty-eight percent of grey collar workers and 86% of both blue and white collar workers say they are at least somewhat satisfied with their job and an average of 89% of all workers are proud of the work.
They believe their job provides them a good living financially to support their family (81% white collar, 80% blue collar, 77% grey collar) and few are worried they might lose their position in the future (13% blue collar, 13% white collar, 12% grey collar).
Most white and grey collar workers believe their boss cares about them personally (80% white collar, 77% grey collar) and that their company cares about its employees (80% white collar, 77% grey collar), though blue collar workers are the least likely to agree with this sentiment at 71%. Regardless of their type of work, the top reason U.S. workers value their field is the ability to make a good living wage at 53%. Having flexible work hours is also a top reason for job satisfaction (47% white collar, 42% grey collar, 35% blue collar).
Conversely, white and grey collar workers say the top thing they dislike about their job is having limited or no advancement opportunities (30% white collar, 27% grey collar). Blue collar workers mostly dislike that their job can be dangerous at times, 39%, though they also report limited or no advancement opportunities, 28%, as reasons they dislike their field.
Financially, about half of all workers describe themselves as middle class, and most say they’ve received a pay increase in the last year (76% white collar, 70% grey collar, 68% blue collar). White collar and blue collar workers are more likely to say they received a promotion in the past year (36% white collar, 35% blue collar, 29% grey collar). Over half of U.S. workers anticipate they will receive a pay increase this year or next year (68% white collar, 60% grey collar, 55% blue collar).
Political Differences? Not So Much
At a time when the country is divided along many lines, views on political parties are notably similar between the groups. When asked which political party does a better job of helping Americans in their line of work, there is no consensus.
- Blue collar: 39% Republican, 36% Democratic, 24% neither
- Grey collar: 35% Republican, 38% Democratic, 25% neither
- White collar: 39% Republican, 37% Democratic, 22% neither
With 2020 approaching, the 2019 survey also polled grey and white collar respondents on their concerns ahead of the election. (Similar questions were not posed to blue collar workers in the 2018 survey). Respondents could select all issues that applied. The concerns that rise to the top for U.S. workers are as follows:
- Economy: grey and white collar 51%, each
- Health Care: grey collar 54%, white collar 50%
- Immigration: grey and white collar 43%, each
- Affordability of daily living: grey collar 43%, white collar 39%
Hopeful for Their Profession in the Future
Looking down the road, roughly 3 in 4 workers believe there is a good career path in their line of work (75% white collar, 74% blue collar, 72% grey collar) and would encourage a friend or family member to pursue a job in it (70% grey collar, 68% white collar, 64% blue collar). However, they are less enthusiastic about encouraging a child to follow in their footsteps with only 64% of white collar, 62% of grey collar and 51% of blue collar workers making the recommendation. For those who would encourage a child to pursue the same career, the top reasons for doing so include because it’s enjoyable and profitable.
Notably, grey collar workers are far more likely to encourage a child to explore a career in their field than white collar workers because they anticipate high demand for their job in the future (grey collar 45%, white collar 31%).
Eight-in-10 U.S. workers are optimistic about their future (83% grey collar, 83% white collar, 80% blue collar) and most parents are hopeful for their children, agreeing with the idea that their children will have an even better future than they will (88% blue collar, 81% grey collar, 75% white collar). And despite any past or future worries, an overwhelming majority say their life is moving in the right direction (88% grey collar, 86% white collar, 85% blue collar).
Although most U.S. white collar (83%) and grey collar (81%) workers view labels such as “grey collar” and “white collar” as a good way to describe the work they do, they also see them as old-fashioned and non-applicable anymore (62% grey collar, 56% white collar). When grey and white collar workers were asked which definition or label best describes the work they do, their responses reveal an overlap in classification.
Eighty percent of white collar workers describe their work as “white collar,” while 49% of grey collar workers also classify their work as “white collar.” Another 25% of grey collar workers define their duties as “grey collar,” and 14% say “blue collar.” Eleven percent of grey collar workers define their position as “something else.”
While the majority of white collar (76%) and grey collar (73%) workers believe labeling a profession as “blue collar,” “grey collar” or “white collar” is not personally offensive, they do think the labeling hurts how people view a particular line of work (62% grey collar, 59% white collar). In fact, more than 1 in 4 grey collar (31%) and white collar (27%) workers even say they would likely be in another profession if it weren’t for the assigned label (e.g., “blue collar,” “white collar”).
“The value of work is not found in the color of the collar one wears, the location of a job, the existence of an office or even the size of the paycheck. The value of work is found in the sense of purpose and pride it gives the worker,” said Bill Stoller, CEO of Express. “White, grey and blue collar Americans have clear differences, but they are also telling us that they feel good about themselves, their families and their future. That’s a good news story.”
About the Survey
The survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Express Employment Professionals between June 18 and July 8, 2019 among 1,011 U.S. white collar workers (defined as adults ages 18+ in the U.S. who are employed full-time, part-time, or self-employed and works in an office, cubicle, or other administrative setting) and 1,019 grey collar workers (defined as adults ages 18+ who are employed full-time, part-time, or self-employed and works in one of the following professions: airline pilot or flight attendant, agribusiness professional (e.g., farmer, land manager), certified/licensed salesperson (e.g., real estate broker, stockbroker, insurance broker), clergy (e.g., minister, rabbi, imam), child care (e.g., nanny, au pair), engineer (e.g., mechanical, electrical, avionics, civil), firefighter, funeral director/technician, food preparation and catering (e.g., chef, sous chef), high-technology technician (e.g., lab technician, helpdesk technician, IT professional, medical equipment repair, solar panel installer), non-physician healthcare professional (e.g., nurse, emergency medical services personnel, physician’s assistant), paralegal, police officer, protective services, military, security or civil defense, professional musician/artist, school administrator, teacher, educator, or other academic field worker, or typist/stenographer).
Figures are weighted where necessary by age, by gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, income, marital status, employment, household size and propensity to be online to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.