15 Cities With the Most Physically Demanding Jobs

Tired construction worker
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This story originally appeared on Construction Coverage.

The COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for the largest wave of job losses since the Great Depression. The mass layoffs caused by social distancing regulations have brought new meaning to the term “essential worker.”

Today’s essential workers often hold some of the most physically demanding jobs. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one-third of workers in protective service, construction, maintenance and repair engage in physically demanding activity.

Nationally, over 10% of all workers hold physically demanding jobs, defined here as jobs where workers engage in heavy or very heavy work activities. A large portion of those physically demanding jobs are in transportation and material moving, which employs over 12.5 million workers in the U.S. Construction occupations also account for a significant number of workers in physically demanding roles, with nearly 2.3 million construction workers engaging in heavy or very heavy work.

The employment and wage data used in this study are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics. Information on the physical demands of occupations is from the 2018 Occupational Requirements Survey. Specifically, researchers looked at the percentage of workers in each occupation where the strength requirement was either heavy or very heavy work.

To identify the percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs by location, strength requirement percentages were multiplied by each location’s occupation-specific employment numbers, summed, and then divided by the total employment for that location. Locations were ordered by the resulting statistic. In the event of a tie, the location with more total workers in physically demanding jobs was ranked higher.

Locations with a greater prevalence of physically demanding jobs tend to have lower overall wages. In locations where more than 10% of workers are in physically demanding jobs, the average median annual wage is slightly above $36,000. By comparison, the average median annual wage in locations where less than 10% of workers engage in physically demanding jobs is $41,000. Despite this trend, physically demanding jobs often require only a high school diploma or less. Adjusting for educational attainment, workers with physically demanding jobs actually tend to earn more than workers with similar education in different jobs.

Following are the metropolitan areas with the largest percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs.

15. Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City skyline
Natalia Bratslavsky / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.4%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 64,924
  • Total workers across all jobs: 627,500
  • Protective service workers: 13,310
  • Construction workers: 36,090
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 27,240
  • Transportation & moving workers: 49,820
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $37,640

14. Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN

Vanderbilt Unversity
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.4%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 104,147
  • Total workers across all jobs: 999,030
  • Protective service workers: 23,010
  • Construction workers: 34,390
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 39,690
  • Transportation & moving workers: 102,930
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $38,900

13. Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville, Florida
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.5%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 73,877
  • Total workers across all jobs: 703,140
  • Protective service workers: 17,530
  • Construction workers: 32,850
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 31,340
  • Transportation & moving workers: 67,280
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $36,770

12. Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

Doug Lemke / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.5%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 114,206
  • Total workers across all jobs: 1,083,650
  • Protective service workers: 22,300
  • Construction workers: 36,770
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 43,250
  • Transportation & moving workers: 108,510
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $39,620

11. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

Home surrounded by greenery in Charlotte,NC.
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.6%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 132,596
  • Total workers across all jobs: 1,245,660
  • Protective service workers: 27,380
  • Construction workers: 55,170
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 51,630
  • Transportation & moving workers: 128,790
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $39,230

10. New Orleans-Metairie, LA

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.7%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 59,443
  • Total workers across all jobs: 557,190
  • Protective service workers: 18,640
  • Construction workers: 23,630
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 23,220
  • Transportation & moving workers: 47,990
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $35,620

9. Birmingham-Hoover, AL

Skyline of Birmingham at Railroad Park in Birmingham, Ala.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.8%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 56,113
  • Total workers across all jobs: 518,210
  • Protective service workers: 13,710
  • Construction workers: 23,770
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 24,560
  • Transportation & moving workers: 41,190
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $38,020

8. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC

Statue of King Neptune in Virginia Beach
JoMo333 / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.8%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 82,225
  • Total workers across all jobs: 758,420
  • Protective service workers: 21,040
  • Construction workers: 39,470
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 36,660
  • Transportation & moving workers: 63,780
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $38,960

7. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

Older couple in Las Vegas
sirtravelalot / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 10.8%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 109,739
  • Total workers across all jobs: 1,019,890
  • Protective service workers: 35,240
  • Construction workers: 53,250
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 34,390
  • Transportation & moving workers: 88,500
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $35,660

6. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

Houston, Texas
Nate Hovee / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 11%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 335,896
  • Total workers across all jobs: 3,052,170
  • Protective service workers: 73,870
  • Construction workers: 193,950
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 133,010
  • Transportation & moving workers: 258,690
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $40,570

5. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN

Indianapolis
Semmick Photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 11.1%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 116,880
  • Total workers across all jobs: 1,057,780
  • Protective service workers: 23,730
  • Construction workers: 42,030
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 40,200
  • Transportation & moving workers: 122,840
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $39,030

4. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI

Grand Rapids, Michigan
Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 11.6%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 66,085
  • Total workers across all jobs: 567,640
  • Protective service workers: 7,530
  • Construction workers: 19,100
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 24,720
  • Transportation & moving workers: 56,810
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $37,410

3. Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN

Thomas Kelley / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 11.6%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 75,805
  • Total workers across all jobs: 656,250
  • Protective service workers: 12,410
  • Construction workers: 23,750
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 27,890
  • Transportation & moving workers: 82,040
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $37,460

2. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

Riverside, California at night
MattGush / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 12.3%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 188,989
  • Total workers across all jobs: 1,538,400
  • Protective service workers: 40,900
  • Construction workers: 82,200
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 59,480
  • Transportation & moving workers: 207,620
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $37,780

1. Memphis, TN-MS-AR

f11 photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs: 12.6%
  • Total workers in physically demanding jobs: 79,900
  • Total workers across all jobs: 632,600
  • Protective service workers: 21,110
  • Construction workers: 18,330
  • Installation, maintenance, & repair workers: 23,300
  • Transportation & moving workers: 107,020
  • Median annual wage (all workers): $35,540

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