White-collar vs. blue-collar jobs: Which contributes more to society?


Fact Box

  • Blue-collar” jobs involve manual labor and manufacturing, while “white-collar” jobs pertain to “suit-and-tie workers who work at a desk.” The latter is typically more educated, makes more money, and traditionally belongs to one of the higher social classes. 
  • American writer Upton Sinclair is credited with coining the term “white-collar” in the 1920s in reference to office workers, while the term “blue-collar” also came to prominence around the same time to describe manual laborers who “wore overalls, jeans or durable work shirts – mostly in the color blue, to more easily cover the dust and dirt they inevitably came into contact with.”
  • Accountants, health administrators, and attorneys are white-collar vocations earning between $50K and $200K per year. On the flipside, blue-collar jobs include mechanics, landscape artists, and electricians: the average pay is about $12 to $25 per hour
  • From October 2020 to April 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a News Gallup poll found that 72% of white-collar workers performed their job from home, while the rate was 14% for blue-collar workers.

Andrew (Blue-collar)

Blue-collar jobs create the physical infrastructure in which all of life takes place. Most white-collar jobs are located in an office or similar building built by blue-collar laborers, skilled technicians, and other craftsmen. Similarly, the utilities and connectivity services that allow business to take place--as well as all the necessary roads and material foundations must be put in place by blue-collar workers before any white-collar work can be done. 

Blue-collar workers feed America, from the farmers producing our food to those trucking it in from out of state, and ultimately those cooking and serving it in restaurants. Business deals may be done over meals, but these meeting places wouldn't exist without the blue-collar workers making them possible. Dubbed by some as the 'backbone of the US economy,' it's hard to overestimate the overall amount of work done by people working blue-collar jobs because literally every space, place, vehicle, and much of the furnishings and other goods contained therein are made and maintained by them. This is in sharp contrast to the unseen contributions that white-collar workers make. 

During the pandemic, the importance of many blue-collar jobs became clear as white-collar workers were able to work remotely or reduce their hours. But, the same could not be said for blue-collar workers, who were often required to continue their regular work schedules despite the danger of a highly infectious disease being spread--a clear indicator of their necessity to society.

Finally, as Montez King, Executive Director of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, points out, the short supply of qualified blue-collar workers 'lowers our GDP, it lowers our ability to manufacture [domestically], and when we can't manufacture, we can't compete.' 

Maha (White-collar)

Though blue-collar workers are considered “the backbone” of the American economy, white-collar workers are the mind and hand pushing it through. Quite literally at times, as the majority of white-collar workers tend to set the direction and strategy for blue-collar workers and businesses. 

White-collar workers enjoy more privilege in American society since they contribute more to it. In fact, IBISWorld’s list of the ten biggest industries by revenue is composed mainly of service industries featuring white-collar workers. 

These and similar industries are expected to grow further despite the challenges presented by the COVID pandemic and the constant drive for automation. According to CompTIA, technology-related employment increased across 44 states in 2021. And the IT industry alone accounts for 9.3% of direct value in the economy, or $1.8+ trillion.  

On the other hand, as the pandemic illustrated, blue-collar workers were presented with many setbacks. Despite wage gains, many were reluctant to work due to unemployment benefits or the risk of contracting the disease. After all, the jobs require face-to-face interactions. 

Recent challenges aside, blue-collar workers are more likely to succumb to mental pressure. A study revealed that they experience 55% more stress than white-collar workers, which not only increases the risk of early mortality in individuals but also impacts society. Some consequences of stress on society include straining health services and increasing the demand for services from voluntary organizations. The economy, too, is affected as stress impairs individuals’ ability to be productive. 

In the rapidly changing modern world, society depends on white-collar workers to direct successful planning and implementation by embodying companies’ intellectual assets, without which many blue-collar workers would become obsolete.

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