Why does nobody want these high paying jobs?

Roderick Graham
8 min readMar 14

I read a piece recently from NPR about high-paying, skilled trade jobs going unfilled. By skilled trade, I mean jobs that require training or certification in a specific skill but not necessarily a college degree. The NPR piece highlighted an ironworker named Morgan in Washington State. Morgan, age 20 when he was first interviewed in 2018, was making about $60,000 a year.

That’s pretty good right out of high school. The median income for a male in 2020 was about $61,000 per year. To visualize the median, imagine lining up all men in the United States from least income to highest. The person in the middle of that line, separating the top half of earners from the lower half of earners, is the median person. Morgan was making as much as about half of all men in the country, and he was not yet old enough to buy himself a beer.

Now contrast Morgan with me. In 2016, when I showed my fancy Ph.D. to my current employer and they hired me, I was given a base salary of $56,000. I was about 40 years old and saddled with $50,000 in college debt. Standing in that imaginary income line, I would be a little behind Morgan. My university and discipline pay less than the average, but still, the difference between Morgan and myself is striking.

According to the Good Jobs Project at Georgetown University, there are over 30 million good jobs out there that do not require a college degree (they define a good job as one that pays $35,000 a year if you’re under 45 years old and $45,000 if you’re 45 or older).

30 million potential Morgans.

But those jobs remain unfilled. Why?

Something for everyone

The crux of the NPR piece was that many young people planning their futures do not consider Morgan’s career path. They believe that getting a college degree is integral to their future success. To be sure, some people go to college because they want the experience. Others go because they love learning and hope that passion eventually leads to gainful employment.

But many, many, many more young people simply want to find a job they like and give them enough money to live a meaningful life. And they have quite a few options. Here is a list from Indeed.com of the 12 of the highest-paying skilled trades in 2023:

Roderick Graham

Gadfly | Professor of Sociology at Old Dominion University | I post about social science, culture, and progressive politics | Views are my own