Choices made in high school can dramatically shape your financial life as an adult. Education reporter Emily Deruy, writing for The Atlantic, points out that high school girls in blue collar communities are being left behind in the race to secure blue collar jobs that pay well.
Deruy cites a Cornell University study, writing that traditional gender roles have in part led to “employment and wage gaps between men and women that are particularly entrenched in blue-collar communities...[with] the widest chasms between young men and women who attended high school in blue-collar communities, which tend to be concentrated in the Southeast and Midwest.”
Since in 2016 women are not as highly represented in blue collar jobs as are men, this educational trend is worrisome. Many blue collar jobs pay well, and it hurts women financially when they aren’t part of that career group. When I worked in construction, we saw few female blue collar workers in any of the trades. In general, women fill relatively few high-paying blue collar jobs; current data show that only about 2.6% of women are in construction, about 13% of women in law enforcement, and just under 6% are truck drivers. Educational programs are a great way to draw more women into these careers.
Lauren Camera, education reporter for US News, notes that “while there has been lots of energy and political capital spent on increasing access to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, for girls at both at the federal, state and local levels, the question of what options they’re left with upon completing career and technical education (CTE) programs has largely been overlooked.” In other words, even if CTE programs are offered, in many communities the high school girls who could benefit from them opt out. They tend to take cosmetology or child care courses instead of welding or auto mechanics, thus consigning themselves to the strong possibility of lower lifetime earnings. When you consistently earn a lower salary, you make less over the course of your career. For example, a cosmetologist’s median salary is about $25,000, which works out to about $1M over a lifetime career. An ironworker making about $72,000 per year could earn about $3M. That’s a dramatic swing in lifetime earnings.
Of course, aptitude and interest make a difference, and workers have preferences worth following in what they want to do for a career. However, the Cornell study showed that women in CTE programs tended to choose courses geared more toward those jobs that are traditionally considered female – and that pay less. It’s important to provide an environment in CTE classes that makes it conducive for women to take and pass the classes that prepare them for jobs in lucrative blue collar fields.
In her article, Deruy concludes that “while career-and-technical education may be becoming more equitable, and while women now actually outpace men in college enrollment, girls who go to high school in blue-collar communities are often still left behind, less able to access college-prep classes that pave the way to a bachelor’s degree, and less likely to benefit from vocational training that would lead to a sustainable future.”
As a financial planner and literacy educator, I advise clients to choose the best-paying career they feel they can enjoy and succeed in. If your interests and passions lead you to lower-paying jobs, that’s ok because the work you do will make your life rich in ways other than financial ones. But if you or your children are considering two or more career directions, it will help financially to weigh the cost of getting that education or training against the pay you will earn yearly and over your career life. And if you’ve got a daughter who wants to break out of a traditional female career role, she might be making exactly the right decision.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor at Aiken Technical College, and financial literacy educator wrote Financial Advice for Blue Collar America. Her book discusses basic concepts of money including insurance and taxes, financial traps to avoid, how to pay for college and tech school, and the bright future ahead for blue collar careers.
Block, Sharon. “The Power of Women’s Voices.” U.S. Department of Labor. 16 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016. https://blog.dol.gov/2016/06/16/the-power-of-womens-voices/.
Camera, Lauren. “Women Losing Out on Career and Technical Education. USNews. 29 Jun. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-06-29/women-losing-out-on-career-and-technical-education.
Deruy, Emily. “How Girls In Blue Collar Communities are Being Left Behind.” The Atlantic. 15. Jul. 2015. Web. 5 Oct. 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/07/how-girls-in-blue-collar-communities-are-being-left-behind/491405/.
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