Millions of U.S. workers have the skills to earn 70 percent more than they do today.

As many as 30 million American workers without four-year college degrees have the skills to realistically move into new jobs that pay on average 70 percent more than their current ones. That estimate comes from a collaboration of academic, nonprofit and corporate researchers who mined data on occupations and skills, The New York Times’s Steve Lohr reports.

The findings point to the potential of upward mobility for millions of Americans, who might be able to climb from low-wage jobs to middle-income occupations or higher.

But the research also shows the challenge that the workers face: They currently experience less income mobility than those holding a college degree, which is routinely regarded as a measure of skills. That widely shared assumption, the researchers say, is deeply flawed.

“We need to rethink who is skilled, and how skills are measured and evaluated,” said Peter Q. Blair, a labor economist at Harvard, who was a member of the research team.

The researchers published a broad look at the jobs, wages and skills of workers who have a high school diploma but not a four-year college degree as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper this year. For skills, the researchers used Labor Department classifications. They defined low-wage jobs as those paying less than the nation’s median annual salary of $38,000. Middle-wage occupations were those paying from $38,000 to $77,000, with the midpoint of $57,500. High-wage jobs paid more than $77,000.

The highest-paid workers without college degrees were in computer, technical and management jobs. The lowest-paid were clustered in personal care and food preparation jobs.

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