We often associate big paychecks with business suits or — if you work in tech — t-shirts and hoodies. But many blue-collar workers earn lofty salaries.
The term blue collar reportedly originated in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s, when manual laborers often sported dark colors so that dirt wouldn’t stand out. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines blue-collar jobs as roles like “precision production, craft, and repair occupations” and “machine operators and inspectors.” The American Heritage Dictionary’s explanation is a bit clearer: “of or relating to wage earners, especially as a class, whose jobs are performed in work clothes and often involve manual labor.”
Forbes looked at the National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from May 2016 to identify 10 lucrative blue-collar positions, and we excluded any managerial or supervisory roles. The BLS collected this data over a three-year period, and all of the 10 jobs we identified pay well above the national average of $49,630.
Nuclear power reactor operators earned a striking $91,370 in average annual wages. They control nuclear reactors, which can be used to generate electricity and move aircraft carriers, by moving control rods, starting and stopping equipment and recording data in logs, according to the BLS. You’ll only have your pick of seven states if you’d like to become a nuclear reactor operator. Idaho, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana are the places with these jobs.
Elevator installers and repairers made a healthy $76,860. If you’re interested in this career, you’ll need to learn the trade through an apprenticeship, the BLS reports. Growth prospects for the field are higher than for the average American job — it’s expected to expand 13% between 2014 and 2024, compared with 7% for all jobs.
Power plant operators brought home $73,800. Although electricity usage will likely grow in the coming years, the number of power plant operator jobs is projected to shrink 6% due to technological advances and better energy efficiency, the BLS says.
Transportation inspectors work to ensure the safe movement of people and goods. They examine truck freight and trains, for example, and earn average wages of $72,650. You can get a transportation inspector job in just about every U.S. state, and the heaviest concentrations of inspectors are in New York, Florida and Texas.