The truth about jobs and four year degrees

Two insightful new reports from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. You can read them here and here.

The two studies demolish what passes for conventional wisdom on job creation in post Great Recession America. First and foremost, it is not true that we have too many with four year degrees.  From December 2007 (the month the Great Recession began) through September 2015 the economy has added 2.6 million jobs. Who are getting those jobs? Overwhelmingly those with a four year degree or more.

Employment of those with bachelors degrees is up 8.1 million. Employment for those with some college or an associates degree is up 700,000. For those with a high school degree or less employment is down by 6.3 million.  You read that right: Basically all the net new jobs for the past eight years are going to those with a four year degree or more. So if you look at what employers are doing––not what they and their political and media allies are saying––they are demanding and hiring most those with four year degrees.

For those who believe––its not true––that the American economy is different since the end of the Great Recession, the Center on Education and the Workforce details what has happened to employment since the end of the Great Recession. From 2010 (the year after the Great Recession) through 2014, the economy has added 6.6 million net new jobs. Of those 2.9 million are good-paying jobs with wages of more than $53,000 compared to 1.9 million middle-wage jobs ($32,000-53,000) and 1.8 million low-paying jobs (less than $32,000). So much for the conventional wisdom that the predominance of new jobs since the end of the Great Recession are low pay/low skill.

And who are getting those good-paying jobs? Those with four year degrees of more. Of the 2.9 million high-wage net new jobs since the end of the Great Recession 2.8 million went to those with a bachelors degree, 152,00 to those with some college or associates degree and 39,000 fewer with a high school degree or less now have a good-paying job.

The net new jobs for those with a bachelors degree is up 1.3 million in middle wage jobs and 756,000 in low wage jobs. So yes the economy has added some low-wage jobs that are being filled by those with a four year degree or more. But only 756,000 out of more than 4.85 million net new jobs for those with a bachelors degree. For those with some college or an associates degree (which includes those with an occupational certificate) in addition to the increase of 152,000 in high wage jobs, there are 827,000 more in middle wage jobs and nearly 1.2 million in low wage jobs. Not exactly the story we are told over and over again that you can earn as much today with an occupational certificate or associates degree as with a four year degree.

(It is true that some of those in the some college category don’t have either an associated degree or occupational certificate. It is almost certain that those without a credential are working less and earning less than those with a credential. But if the data allowed you to take out those without at least a certificate, it would not change the reality that those with a four year degree or more are doing best in post Great Recession America.)

Finally what about the conventional wisdom that the only four year degrees worth pursuing economically are in STEM fields? Since the end of the Great Recession the economy has added 881,000 high-wage jobs in STEM occupations and another 445,000 for health care professionals and technicians. That is a little more than 1.3 million of the 2.9 million net new good-paying jobs. Nearly 1.8 million net new high-wage jobs were in a category called managerial and professional office. The kind of jobs filled largely by liberal arts and business majors. (Blue collar occupations lost 71,000 and education occupations lost 184,000 good-paying jobs.) So much for there aren’t any new high-wage jobs in non STEM fields!

 

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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