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Blue-collar worker is an idiom referring to a member of the working class who performs manual labor and earns an hourly wage. Blue-collar workers are distinguished from Tertiary sector of industry service workers and from white-collar workers, whose jobs are not considered manual labor. However, some service workers are also often referred to as blue-collar workers. Traditionally, white-collar workers earn a monthly or annual salary rather than an hourly wage, although paying white-collar workers by the hour is an increasing practice, especially among independent tech contractors. Blue-collar work may be skilled or unskilled, and may involve manufacturing, mining, building and construction trades, law enforcement, mechanical work, maintenance, repair and operations maintenance or technical installations. The white-collar worker, by contrast, performs non-manual labor often in an office; and the service industry worker performs labor involving customer interaction, entertainment, retail and outside sales, and the like. Some service industry workers differ as they perform tasks that are mostly unskilled in the service sector.

The term blue-collar occasionally carries a stereotype based on historical perspective. The blue-collar worker in the United States is an embodiment of the American mythos of a work ethic and the dignity of labor. Blue-collar workers take pride in their jobs. Some blue-collar jobs, such as those of janitors and assembly line workers, may carry negative stereotypes from perceptions that they represent minimal ability, or that the people in those positions were too lazy to obtain a better job or were poorly educated. Most involve levels of specialized skill that carry no stigma, and are contrarily a source of pride.

Origin of the term

The term blue-collar is derived from uniform dress codes of industrial workplaces. Industrial and manual workers wear durable clothing that can be soiled or scrapped at work. A popular element of such “work clothes” has been, and still is, a light or navy blue shirt. Blue is also a popular color for coveralls, and will usually carry a name tag of the company/establishment on one side, and the individual's name on the other. Often these items are bought by the company and laundered by the establishment as well.

The popularity of the color blue among persons who do manual labor is contrasted to the ubiquitous white dress shirt that, historically, has been standard attire in office environments. This obvious color-coding has been used to identify a difference in socio-economic class. This distinction is growing more blurred, however, with the increasing importance of skilled labor, and the growth of non-laboring, but low-paying, service sector jobs.

Blue-collar can also be used as an adjective to describe the environment of the blue-collar worker: e.g. a blue-collar neighborhood, job, restaurant, bar, etc., or a situation describing the use of manual effort and the strength required to do so.[1]

Education requirements

Some distinctive elements of blue-collar work are the lesser requirements for formal academic education which is needed to succeed in other types of work, with many blue-collar jobs requiring only a High School Diploma or GED.[2] Blue-collar work typically is hourly wage-labor. Usually, the pay for such occupation is lower than that of the white-collar worker, although higher than many entry-level service occupations. Sometimes the work conditions can be strenuous or hazardous.

Blue-collar stereotypes in the United States

Blue-collar workers exist in varying proportions throughout the industrial world, though some regions are especially noted for their "blue-collar" ethic. The U.S. state of Pennsylvania, particularly the cities of Pittsburgh and Allentown are considered to epitomize the blue-collar ethic. Pittsburgh's blue-collar image is driven largely by media portrayal which is based on the prevailing "hard working blue-collar" mentality that the majority of Pittsburgh residents tend to value. Both cities have sometimes been highlighted in popular culture because of their blue-collar reputations and with the steady loss of these jobs are in financial distress,[3] but according to a 2005 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 23% of Pittsburgh's job base is made of blue collar occupations.

Decline of blue-collar jobs in Western countries

With the movement of many Western nations towards service based economy, the number of blue-collar jobs has steadily decreased. Another main reason for the decrease in blue-collar jobs in the United States is due to the technological revolution. Perhaps the biggest reason is that many low-skill manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to developing nations with lower wages. At the same time, some blue-collar workers, predominantly in the building and health care industries, have seen rapidly rising wages due to their requirement of specialized skills.


See also

Social stratification: Social class
Bourgeoisie Upper class Ruling class Nobility White-collar
Petite bourgeoisie Upper middle class Creative class Gentry Blue-collar
Proletariat Middle class Working class Nouveau riche Pink-collar
Lumpenproletariat Lower middle class Lower class Old Money Gold-collar
Slave class Underclass Classlessness
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