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U.S. Navy sailors load a cargo container onto a container ship.

A blue-collar worker is a member of the working class who typically performs manual labor and earns an hourly wage. Blue-collar workers are distinguished from those in the service sector and from white-collar workers, whose jobs are not considered manual labor.

Blue-collar work may be skilled or unskilled, and may involve manufacturing, mining, building and construction trades, 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.

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Origin of the term

Boilersuit with literal blue collar

The term blue-collar is derived from 19th century uniform dress codes of industrial workplaces. Industrial and manual workers wear durable clothing that can be dirty, soiled, or scrapped at work. A popular element of such clothes has been, and still is, a light or navy blue work shirt. Blue is also a popular color for coveralls, and will frequently include 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 manual laborers is in contrast to the ubiquitous white dress shirt that is standard attire in office environments. Color-coding has been used to identify a difference in socio-economic class. This distinction is becoming more blurred, however, with the increasing importance of skilled labor, and the growth of non-laboring, but low-paying, service sector jobs. "Blue-collar" may also be used as an adjective to describe the environment of the blue-collar worker: a "blue-collar" neighborhood, job, restaurant, bar; or any situation describing the use of manual effort and the strength required to do so.[1]

Education requirements

A distinctive element of blue-collar work is the lesser requirement 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 (in the USA and Canada) 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. Especially skilled blue-collar jobs may pay very well compared to white collar jobs. Sometimes the work conditions can be strenuous or hazardous, also known as the three Ds: Dirty, Demanding, and Dangerous. Blue collar jobs may be represented by trade unions or regulated by state and/or federal statutes.

Blue-collar stereotypes in the United States

During World War II, women filled job positions some of which would otherwise be male dominated.

Blue-collar workers exist in varying proportions throughout the country, though some regions are especially noted for their "blue-collar" ethic. The U.S. state of Pennsylvania, particularly the cities of Pittsburgh and Allentown, is 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. Another example would be Ohio, whose 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][4] Throughout history the city of Detroit is classified as a "hard working blue collar city" with tough labor jobs on the assembly line and other industrial work. Some say that Detroit has experienced the toughest of times for blue and white collar workers. [5]

Shift of blue-collar jobs from industrialized countries to developing regions

With the movement of many Western nations towards a basis of service economy, the number of blue-collar jobs has steadily decreased. Another main cause for the decrease in blue-collar jobs in the United States is due to the information revolution.

Perhaps the biggest cause is that many low-skill manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to developing nations with lower wages. Outsourcing of manufacturing jobs is resulting in a growing class of "blue-collar" workers in developing nations, changing these regions from an agrarian to an industrial job base.

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