When Armando G. de los Santos graduated from Fort Collins (Colo.) High School in 1985, he landed a minimum-wage job bagging groceries in a local market. He has since moved to another store, where he makes $9.50 an hour in the meat section. But years of searching for something better have taught him a harsh reality: The well-paying blue-collar jobs that gave U.S. workers rising living standards for most of this century are vanishing. Today, you can all but forget about joining the middle class unless you go to college.

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