Over the span of a couple of generations, the non-college degree path to the middle class has turned bleak. Since the military draft had ended most of my high school classmates could expect to find employment if college wasn’t an option. South Georgia was not a major manufacturing hub, but there were several small manufacturing plants employing dozens each. The Amoco Fabrics plant at its peak had over a thousand on the payroll. Today, to borrow Peggy Mitchell’s famous line, they are gone with the wind. Students in Economics 101 classes learn about the multiplier effect. As one dollar moves through an economy it stimulates seven or eight “other” dollars. Areas suffering job losses get hammered with a reverse multiplier effect.

Every election cycle candidates promise to expand middle class jobs. Their interest is logical; for decades, non-college graduates could maintain a middle-class lifestyle with a manufacturing job. Today, more than 30 million “good” jobs are available for young adults who lack a college degree. To be considered a good job pay begins at $35,000 with expected growth to $45,000 at age 45. The problem for young adults without a college degree is there are not enough jobs for the demand. In 1991, 60 percent of non-college educated workers could find a good job (wages adjusted for inflation), but today only 45 percent can.

Certain areas of the country fare better than others. Counter to Bruce Springsteen’s foreman in “My Hometown” the Northeast does pretty well. The Boss’s home, New Jersey, has a higher percentage of workers without a college diploma with good jobs than any other state except Wyoming. The often-maligned Rust Belt fares better than the rest of the country, too.

Post-secondary education is the key. Manufacturing provided almost 30 percent of good jobs in 1991, but today the numbers is 16 percent and falling. To get to the middle class, non-college workers need specific training. The number of associate degrees and career focused certificates has doubled since the year 2000. Instead of the manufacturing jobs found in yesteryear, emergency management, video production and electrical engineering have become the new economy. Unlike old economy jobs, these are hard to outsource.

Southern states like Florida and Georgia run the risk of falling behind. Outside of oil-rich Texas and Louisiana, the Southeast has the lowest percentage of good jobs. Poorly funded public schools turn out students unlikely to succeed in associate degree programs. Florida, the Sunshine State, should be promoting solar energy career paths. For decades, we have been calling ourselves the Sunshine State. A tan looks healthy but any dermatologist will tell you that is a myth. Solar energy is less destructive than sunbathing and could help keep Florida’s economy prosperous without oil spills.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.