New Report Finds Path to Restoring Middle Class in Opportunity Occupations

Heartland states home to a greater proportion of middle-class jobs that do not require a four-year degree than non-Heartland states

BENTONVILLE, Ark., July 22, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, think tank Heartland Forward published a new report, Heartland of Opportunity, finding that the Heartland region is home to a significant and growing number of opportunity occupations—jobs in fields like nursing and manufacturing that pay middle-class wages but do not require a four-year degree. Heartland Forward found that non-metro areas in the Heartland are home to proportionally more of these jobs than their metropolitan counterparts, challenging the narrative of a rural America in decay. In addition, opportunity occupations are more prevalent in Heartland states than in non-Heartland comparison states, such as California, Washington and Florida. Amid rising income inequality and falling social mobility, opportunity occupations could be key to a revitalized middle class—if policymakers take the right steps.  Learn more in our latest report:

"As the cost of obtaining a four-year degree rises, jobs in fields like health care, transportation and logistics offer appealing alternatives for workers who aspire to earn stable, middle-class wages," said Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward. "The road to a stronger middle class runs through the Heartland, where these fields are growing."

Opportunity occupations outnumber low-wage jobs in most Heartland states. In North Dakota, Indiana, and Iowa, roughly half of all jobs are opportunity occupations. Not all opportunity jobs will grow, however. Heartland Forward found that employment in administrative, clerical and customer service work is projected to decline.

"Policymakers should invest in workforce training programs with a keen awareness of which opportunities are expected to grow and which will likely shrink," said Julie Trivitt, senior economist at Heartland Forward and chief author of the report. "We also found disparities in pay for the same types of jobs between nearby metro and non-metro areas. Policymakers should facilitate information sharing so that workers know they can increase their pay by moving relatively short distances."

Heartland Forward builds upon prior opportunity occupation research by comparing non-metro and metro areas for the first time. This analysis informs Heartland Forward's unique policy recommendations for increasing labor market efficiency and growing the middle class.  

About Heartland Forward: Heartland Forward's mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. Heartland Forward conducts independent, data-driven research to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. Recently, it launched its inaugural program—an idea accelerator, in Oxford, Miss., and Tulsa, Okla., as part of Heartland Forward’s Community Growth Program and Toolkit. The CGPT is providing communities with the resources needed to help inspire new ideas, build upon existing programs and connect with resources to achieve success. It also hosts a flagship event in Bentonville, Ark., called Heartland Summit.



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