What Is Blue Collar?

What Is Blue Collar?

The term blue collar refers to a classification of people, especially those in the workforce. Blue-collar workers are considered the working class. They typically work in manual labor and are compensated by the hour or through piecework. The term was adopted because of the darker-colored clothing these workers wore. Some fields that fall into this category include construction, manufacturing, maintenance, and mining. Blue-collar were once perceived to be less educated, low-skilled, and of a lower social class but that perception is changing.

Key Takeaways

  • Blue collar is a classification of people, particularly of certain people in the workforce.
  • Blue-collar jobs are considered working-class jobs, which are paid hourly and usually involve manual labor.
  • The term originated in the 1920s when blue-collar workers wore darker clothing to hide dirt. 
  • Many blue-collar workers are now able to command high salaries because they are highly skilled and educated.
  • Factory workers, welders, nuclear technicians, elevator installers, and subway operators are examples of blue-collar jobs.

Understanding Blue Collar

Classifying workers by the color of their shirts dates back to the early 1920s. This categorization system was based on the color or type of clothing people wore in their jobs. Blue collar is just one of the many categories of workers that are classified based on the color of clothing they wear. Other collar colors include white collar, gold collar, pink collar, red collar, and green collar. We discuss these in greater detail below.

Many of those in blue-collar or trade occupations who did taxing physical labor in varying temperatures (coal miners, masons, bricklayers, boilermakers, and welders) wore darker colors, which didn't show dirt as readily. So it was not unusual to see them wearing boiler suits, chambray shirts, overalls, and jeans all in the color blue.

Blue collar continues to refer to the section of the labor force that works manual labor. These individuals may work in factories, plants, and mines, but they may also work with animals like those who work on farms. Many blue-collar workers work with heavy machinery. As such, they may be skilled or unskilled. These skills can be acquired either on the job or through trade schools.

Some of the most common blue-collar jobs include welders, mechanics, electricians, and construction workers. Others may be more specialized and require more skills. Power plant operators, power distributors, and nuclear power plant operators fall into the latter category. These individuals are generally paid by the hour or piecework.

Blue collar has traditionally been a derogatory term and calling someone blue collar is considered by some to be offensive. That's because it was often associated with people who were perceived to be of a lower social class, with little to no education and skills, and with lower earning potential.

Special Considerations

Being blue-collar originally meant that people weren't (as) educated or possessed any desirable skills. They were even perceived to belong to a lower social class than other workers, usually when they were compared to white-collar workers.

But these stereotypes aren't necessarily true. In fact, the term has evolved over time, and it's now very common to find blue-collar workers who are formally educated, skilled, and highly paid.

Although blue-collared work still entails some degree of manual labor, advancements in technology have seen more blue-collar workers in industries such as aeronautics, film-making, electronics, and energy. Although they may not require a four-year college degree, some blue-collar jobs require highly skilled personnel, with specialized training and a license or certificate from an apprenticeship program or trade school.

Blue Collar vs. White Collar

White collar is the most common term that is contrasted with blue collar, especially when it comes to employment. Some of the main differences between blue collar and white collar include where each works, their educational background and skills, as well as their roles and how they're paid.

Work Environment

While blue-collar employees may find themselves working in jobs in industrial settings wearing blue (or dark) clothing that hides residue, the same isn't true about their white-collar counterparts.

White-collar workers were classified as such because of the white shirts they wore to work, typically underneath their suits. Their jobs are normally situated in offices or corporate boardrooms. It isn't uncommon for white-collar workers to sit at desks and use computers. With the advancement in technology, remote work from home or another location has also become very common for many white-collar workers.

Education and Skills

Unlike blue-collar employees, white-collar workers are considered highly educated and highly skilled.

Most white-collar jobs require at least an undergraduate degree for new hires. Higher positions may need applicants to have even higher educational credentials, licenses, and/or special certifications. For instance, an accountant usually needs a degree in accounting or finance while a financial analyst may need the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) designation.

White-collar workers' skills are considered highly advanced and may include things like computer and software skills. Those in higher positions may also need to have people management skills.

Examples and Salary

Some of the most common white-collar jobs include:

  • Administrative assistant
  • Accountant
  • Consultant
  • Marketing manager
  • Executive director
  • Computer programmer

These individuals earn annual salaries, unlike blue-collar jobs pay workers who are paid by the hour or by piece,

Blue Collar vs. Other Collars

While blue and white collars are the most common ones, there are other lesser-known collar colors that represent different segments of the workforce. Unlike white and blue collars, the other categories are not derived from the workers wearing any particular color of shirts. Instead, their colors. They include:

  • Gold Collar: This segment includes specialized fields of law and medicine. This is a reference, perhaps, to the higher salaries these professions command.
  • Gray Collar: This refers to individuals who are officially white-collar but perform blue-collar tasks regularly as part of their jobs like engineers.
  • Pink Collar: This segment relates to the service fields, such as nurses, secretaries, school teachers, salespeople, and wait staff. This category was dubbed pink collar because these jobs were traditionally dominated by women.
  • Red Collar: This classification is named after the red ink used to denote salaries in a budget. Workers in this segment are normally civil servants who work for various levels of government.
  • Green Collar: This category refers to the environmental sector. Companies and individuals classified as green collars find themselves in conservation and sustainability-related jobs.

Example of Blue Collar

Many blue-collar jobs aren't easy to land, easy to keep, or low-paying. And not all blue-collar occupations pay less than white-collar jobs, either. Workers in some trade fields earn more annually than their salaried counterparts. Nuclear technicians, elevator installers, and subway operators earn over $70,000 per year, which is higher than what the average college graduate earns after graduation.

Since most blue-collar jobs pay by the hour, working overtime could mean that a blue-collar worker can earn six figures in any given year. Some blue-collar jobs also pay by the project or follow a salary scheme. In short, in the 21st century, the color of your collar doesn't necessarily dictate the level of your income. 

Here are the top 10 paying blue-collar jobs per the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on median annual salary: 

  1. Nuclear power reactor operator: $111,220
  2. Police and detective front-line supervisors: $98,760
  3. Power distributor and dispatcher: $95,520
  4. Elevator installers and repairers: $91,320
  5. Detective and criminal investigators: $90,370
  6. Power plant operators: $89,410
  7. Powerhouse, substation, and relay electrical and electronics repairers: $87,640
  8. First-line supervisors of firefighting and prevention workers—$83,270
  9. Gas plant operators—$76,970
  10. Transit and railroad police—$69,570

What Does Blue Collar Mean?

Blue collar is a classification of people, especially those in the workforce. It typically relates to people who work in jobs that involve manual labor. This includes those in the manufacturing, mining, and construction sectors. People who are considered blue-collar may or may not be skilled and generally earn hourly wages instead of salaries. The term was applied as workers historically wore blue or dark clothing that hid the dirt and residue that came with their jobs.

What Are Examples of Blue-Collar Jobs?

Some blue-collar jobs include factory workers, miners, construction workers, welders, and electricians. Other positions may require a higher skill set, including nuclear power plant operators, elevator installers, criminal investigators, and dispatchers.

What's the Difference Between Blue-Collar and White-Collar?

Blue collar jobs require manual labor and pay workers hourly wages. Workers traditionally wore blue or dark clothing to hide the residue or dirt that resulted from their jobs. Although they traditionally required little to no educational background and very few skills, that isn't the case today. Many blue-collar workers are highly educated and skilled and earn a significant amount of money.

White-collar workers, on the other hand, work in office or boardroom settings. They were traditionally suit-and-tie people who worked in clerical, administrative, or management roles. They are paid on a salary-basis rather than hourly. These jobs generally require higher education and skills.

The Bottom Line

Blue collar is just one of the classifications of people in the workforce. It has traditionally been used to describe low-earning people with little to no education and few skills. Blue-collar workers have historically worked in jobs that require manual labor. But that's changed, thanks to advancements in technology. Many blue collar workers are now highly educated, have more skills, and earn as much (if not more) than their white-collar counterparts.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. National Association of Colleges and Employers. "NACE SALARY SURVEY: Starting salary projections for Class of 2022 new college graduates."

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "May 2021 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States."

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