One of my close friends recently got a job Working in a Steel Mill in Rural Ohio right before the pandemic hit. He starts work on July 6th, and his starting Salary is 70K a year with full dental, medical, and health insurance benefits. He has no college degree, with his only higher education experience being 2 years in the Navy before being Honorably Discharged. He's planning to buy a house right in the middle of this current Pandemic in February. Houses in the part of Ohio he is working in go for around 50K for a fixer-upper, or about 150K for a fully furnished property. He is 21.
Nobody actually works "on the floor" in steel mills anymore like you see in the movies, everything is done by robots and hydraulics. The only time people come onto the floor is when something breaks or they are doing expansion. His job is to sit in an Air-conditioned room and inspect steel through a Camera, then use a giant robot arm to Move bad steel off the conveyer belts and back into a smelter. For reference, this is very similar to his work enviornment:
Politically, the biggest reason he was able to get a job is because of the new Steel Tariffs that Trump instated during his presidency. It has allowed domestic Steel mills in the US to expand, so people like my friend can get well paying jobs.
How did he get the job?
I won't lie, his Parents did help him out, but only a little. His Dad works as a consultant for Steel Mills around the US, and he knew the Hiring Manager at this particular plant. When the Applications first come in, anyone without an Engineering related college degree is Disqualified. His dad managed to push his resume into the second round of applications, but he still had 80 other applicants to compete with. Remember, if you have any form of engineering Degree (including an Associates which can be obtained very cheaply at a community College) you could get to the second round of applications.
He went through a total of six interviews, each one testing him on his Computer skills, critical Thinking skills, and mathematical aptitude. It took him months of testing and work, but he got the Job offer in February of 2020, right before COVID. He still has the job offer because even in this pandemic, because his company is Expanding. Him and three other people were hired, and those three other people had no personal connections themselves.
This is an example of a special case you can find across the midwest and the South: A very high-paying company right in the middle of a poor, rural Area. If you goal is too build wealth, this will provide one the best of both Worlds with a low cost of living combined with a High Income. The bad news is if you're a city person, this is not the job for you. Personally, I am more than willing to make such a compromise if it means I can keep more of my money and spend less of it on rent, and so is he. Maybe that's why we're friends.
Otherwise, this is a piece of antecdotal evidence that you can get ahead without College, But you do have to think outside the box and make a few Sacrifices. Yes, there are still plenty of cheap places to live in the US. Yes, there are still plenty of high-paying jobs that don't require a Bachelors degree (only an Associate here). Yes, you too can get ahead. But you need to stop following the crowds, and stop listening to your Politicians and teachers who tell you to obtain as much education as possible, and bury yourself in Student loan debt.
I am still in favor of college, but if you don't want to take on debt, there are other choices. If only higher education wasn't so damn expensive.