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Many Americans struggle to get enough physical activity, but they work diligently to prioritize exercise and movement in their free time. In 2018, Americans spent more than $32 billion on gym memberships and health club costs, according to data from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

At the same time, a significant share of American workers can’t escape strenuous physical activity. In the U.S., approximately 10 percent of workers are in jobs that require “heavy” or “very heavy” work, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Requirements Survey.

Among major work categories, Protective Services occupations – which include firefighters, detectives, and correction officers, among others – are the most physically demanding. According to the BLS, 43 percent of all jobs in this category require heavy or very heavy work.

This category is followed by Construction and Extraction occupations, which encompass carpenters, electricians, and elevator installers. The third occupational group with the largest share of physically demanding jobs is Installation and Repair, where one might work as a car mechanic or a wind turbine technician.

It would be reasonable to think that physically strenuous jobs carry a wage premium, but that’s not necessarily the case. Compared to the average across all occupations, physically demanding jobs pay almost $6,300 (12 percent) less per year. This relationship holds across all metropolitan areas, with a strong negative correlation (-49 percent) between the proportion of physically demanding jobs in a metropolitan area and the mean wage paid there.

However, jobs requiring strenuous physical work often require a high school diploma or less. When adjusting for educational attainment, workers in physically demanding jobs tend to earn more than workers with similar levels of education in other jobs.

Using a weighted average, this analysis found the mean annual wage for physically demanding occupations to be $45,648 in 2018. For comparison, the BLS reports that across all workers aged 25 and over, those with a high school diploma typically earn $730 per week – $37,960 per year – and those with less than a high school degree make $553 per week or $28,756 annually. So, for workers without a college education, physically demanding occupations are well-compensated.

Occupations requiring hard physical work are more common in metropolitan areas with fewer young people (18- to 24-year-olds). This is likely a reflection of both higher educational attainment among today’s young adults and a job market that’s shifting towards high-tech jobs.

Given geographic differences in employment, researchers at EffortlessInsurance.com wanted to find which metropolitan areas have the largest share of physically demanding jobs. The analysts combined data from the BLS Occupational Requirement Survey and the U.S. Census American Community Survey to examine these trends. Only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metropolitan areas were grouped based on population into small, midsize, and large metros. Here’s what they found.

Large Metros With the Most Physically Demanding Jobs

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.1%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $41,640
  • Average wage for all occupations: $51,000
  • Total employment in protective services: 28,990
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 51,280
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 50,920

In the Charlotte metro area, 4.2 percent of workers are employed in installation and repair occupations, which is slightly higher than the national average of 3.9 percent. A few of the region’s largest employers are Duke Energy and American Airlines, which contribute to the high percentage of jobs in installation and repair.

Among all the metros on this list, Charlotte has the greatest wage differential for those working in physically demanding jobs, with these workers making 18.4 percent less on average than workers across all occupations.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.2%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $44,147
  • Average wage for all occupations: $45,600
  • Total employment in protective services: 34,150
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 47,960
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 33,800

In Las Vegas, 3.5 percent of all employees are in protective services occupations, which is more than 45 percent higher than the national proportion of 2.4 percent. Notably, one of the occupations categorized as “protective services” is “gaming surveillance officer,” which is a security guard that monitors casinos. Las Vegas workers in physically demanding jobs earn just 3.2 percent less than the average worker, which is the smallest difference on this list.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. New Orleans-Metairie, LA

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.4%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $42,365
  • Average wage for all occupations: $44,860
  • Total employment in protective services: 18,390
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 24,560
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 23,920

In New Orleans, 3.3 percent of all employees work in protective services, which is significantly higher than the national proportion of 2.4 percent. New Orleans also has a disproportionately large number of construction and installation workers, which is likely due to its large port and the prevalence of energy and manufacturing businesses. In New Orleans, workers in physically demanding jobs are paid 5.6 percent less on average than the typical worker.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.4%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $45,943
  • Average wage for all occupations: $54,290
  • Total employment in protective services: 70,320
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 182,530
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 130,320

The metropolitan area centered around Houston, the largest city in Texas, offers above average wages for both workers in physically demanding jobs and workers across all occupations. Fueled by a high density of energy companies, the construction and extraction sector clearly dominates physically demanding jobs in the Houston-Woodlands-Sugar Land metro.

In Houston, 6.1 percent of all employees work in construction and extraction, which is significantly higher than the national proportion of 4.1 percent. Among the cities on this list, Houston also has the greatest number of workers employed in physically demanding jobs.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Birmingham-Hoover, AL

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.5%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $42,210
  • Average wage for all occupations: $47,480
  • Total employment in protective services: 13,870
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 22,030
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 23,790

In the Birmingham-Hoover metro area, 4.7 percent of all employees are in installation and repair occupations, above the national share of 3.9 percent. Notably, automotive mechanics are considered part of the installation and repair sector, and Honda and Mercedes-Benz are two major employers in this region. Birmingham-Hoover also has above average employment in protective services.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.6%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $43,373
  • Average wage for all occupations: $49,380
  • Total employment in protective services: 23,720
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 40,040
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 39,380

Indianapolis is a major transportation and logistics center for the Midwest and boasts the second-largest FedEx air hub worldwide. This contributes to the city’s high concentration of physically demanding jobs. Workers in physically demanding jobs in Indianapolis earn about 12 percent less than the typical worker, which is on par with the national figures.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 11.1%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $42,749
  • Average wage for all occupations: $45,740
  • Total employment in protective services: 12,470
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 23,800
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 28,690

Even though 11.1 percent of jobs in the Louisville metropolitan area are categorized as physically demanding, the area’s proportion of jobs in protective services is 19.5 percent lower than the national proportion of 2.4 percent. This is made up for by a high concentration of workers in installation and repair occupations. Two of Louisville’s major employers are UPS and Ford Motor Company, both of which have a need for strenuous physical work.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 11.2%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $40,374
  • Average wage for all occupations: $45,670
  • Total employment in protective services: 7,930
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 18,420
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 23,010

In the Grand Rapids metro area, only 1.4 percent of all employees are in protective services. Many of the physically demanding jobs in Grand Rapids are in installation and repair, with 4.1 percent of workers employed in this sector. Notably, one of the biggest employers in Grand Rapids is the UPM Blandin Paper Mill, which requires workers to perform maintenance and repairs.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 11.4%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $46,826
  • Average wage for all occupations: $49,100
  • Total employment in protective services: 39,170
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 79,220
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 58,270

Among the cities on this list, Riverside offers the most money to those working in physically strenuous jobs, with an average wage of $46,826. Many of the physically demanding jobs in Riverside are in construction and extraction, with an employment share that’s almost 30 percent higher than the national average.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Memphis, TN-MS-AR

  • Share of workers in physically demanding jobs: 11.9%
  • Average wage for physically demanding jobs: $39,450
  • Average wage for all occupations: $44,610
  • Total employment in protective services: 21,070
  • Total employment in construction & extraction: 19,050
  • Total employment in installation & repair: 24,380

The Memphis metro area holds the most physically demanding jobs among all large metros, with almost 12 percent of jobs requiring heavy physical work. The concentration of protective service jobs in Memphis is 42 percent above average. Among cities on this list, Memphis offers the lowest wage for physically demanding jobs, at $39,450 annually—11.6 percent less than what the typical Memphis worker earns.

Methodology & Full Results

Data on the proportion of heavy or very heavy work comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Requirement Survey, out of which the 22 major occupational groups were analyzed. Metropolitan-level employment and wage statistics are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Requirement Survey. This data was then used to calculate the proportion of physically demanding jobs and the associated wage for each metropolitan area.

Metropolitan areas were grouped based on population size and ordered by the share of workers in physically demanding jobs:

  • Large metros: 1,000,000 people or more
  • Midsize metros: 350,000 – 1,000,000
  • Small metros: less than 350,000 people

For a complete list of results across all metropolitan areas, see the original report on EffortlessInsurance.com.

This article originally ran on effortlessinsurance.com.

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