Whether it is a gaming supervisor in Nevada, a farm worker in California, an extraction worker in North Dakota, or a petroleum engineer in Texas, one occupation is often more strongly associated with a state than any other. While capturing the perception Americans have of a state can be difficult, comparing a job’s concentration in a state’s workforce compared to its concentration nationwide is one way to identify the most iconic job in each state.
Based on workforce composition data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the location quotients for each job in each state. A location quotient measures the concentration of a job in a particular state relative to the national average concentration for that job. A state’s most distinctive, or iconic, job was defined as the job that had the highest location quotient in that state.
Nearly half of the most iconic jobs had at least 10 times the concentration of the job in the national workforce. For example, the share of chemists in Delaware’s workforce was roughly 13 times greater than the share of chemists in the national workforce. In Alaska, the ratio was far higher. The concentration of mining machine operators was more than 58 times the national average concentration of this job. These are the most iconic jobs in each state.
Despite being a state’s iconic job, many of them made up a small share of the state’s workforce. Due to the nation’s especially diverse economy, the most iconic job in all but two states did not exceed 1% of the state’s workforce.
Yet, a relatively high percentage of nationwide workers employed in a state’s iconic job worked in that state. For example, while petroleum engineers — the most iconic job in Texas — comprised just 0.18% of the state’s workforce, nearly 57% of all petroleum engineers nationwide were employed in Texas.
“Certain occupations are just naturally found in certain industries,” said Martin Kohli, chief regional economist at the BLS, in an interview with 24/7 Wall St. Gaming supervisors are employed disproportionately by casinos, and casinos are disproportionately located in Nevada. Similarly, aircraft assemblers work primarily at aircraft manufacturing plants, which are also found disproportionately in certain geographical locations such as Washington.
Kohli went on to explain that, apparently, location matters a great deal to U.S. companies. Otherwise, there would not be the “geographic division of labor” shown by the diversity of iconic jobs across the country.
While the most iconic jobs in each state ought to align with perceptions held by Americans of the particular state, many of the jobs identified as iconic may be surprising. According to Kohli, shifts in the economy can partly explain these cases. For example, the furniture upholsterer occupation — the most iconic job in Mississippi — often complements auto manufacturing as vehicles require upholstery. While most auto-related jobs are still found in Michigan and the Midwest, the auto manufacturing industry has expanded considerably in the southern United States.
Some iconic jobs are part of industries long-associated with the region. Textile jobs have historically been very concentrated in Georgia and North Carolina, in which such jobs were identified as the most iconic. However, these industries are shrinking rapidly and may soon fall off the list of the states’ most distinctive occupations, according to Kohli.
Iconic jobs tended to be higher-paying. However, this was not always the case. The median salary for the most iconic job in 30 states was higher than the median for all statewide occupations, while in the other 20 states the median salaries of the iconic jobs were lower than the state’s average.
To identify the most iconic job in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the highest location quotient for each job in each state from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If an occupation was identified as iconic, but only made up one of every 2,000 jobs in the state or less, the next most iconic job was considered instead. State annual median salaries for all occupations and particular iconic occupations also came from the BLS. GDP contributions by industry came from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). State workforce compositions came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). All data are as of 2013, the most recent period for which data is available.
These are the most iconic jobs in each state.
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