Census Stats Show Degree Holders Less Likely to Be Unemployed

An analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau finds that those with only a high school diploma are more likely to be unemployed than those with a bachelor’s degree.

People with the highest educational attainment were the least likely to be unemployed in any given month between 2008 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census. In August 2010, the unemployment rate for people with less than a high school diploma or GED was 13.3 percent, while the unemployment rate for people with an advanced degree was 4.1 percent. Because the unemployment rate has increased for people of all education levels during the three-year period, the respective rates for these two groups were 9.5 percent and 1.5 percent in March 2008.  

The data also show that higher education generally pays off with higher earnings, but earning levels usually depend on the type of degree. In 2009, the average monthly earnings for an adult with a professional degree were $11,927, while high school graduates earned on average $3,200 per month. 

"On average, adults with a master’s degree earned $6,700 per month and those with a bachelor’s degree earned $5,400 per month," the report states. "Adults with an associate’s degree earned $4,200 per month on average while those with some college but no degree earned $3,600 monthly."

Within education levels, data show that the variation in earnings can be equally as vast, as some fields are more lucrative than others.

U.S. Census Bureau Staff Discuss Data Showing Benefits of Higher Education. 

"The fields of engineering and social science (which includes the field of law at the professional degree level) had the highest mean earnings, with mean monthly earnings of approximately $6,800 and $7,000, respectively," the report states. "The education and vocational studies fields had the lowest mean monthly earnings ($4,400 and $3,800, respectively)."

The data show earnings tend to be highest among professional and doctorate degree holders in the natural sciences, medicine and law. Degrees in technical fields, including engineering and computer science, pay off at all degree levels, while degrees in business pay off more at the master’s and bachelor’s level than at vocational certificate and associate’s degree levels.

Adults with professional and doctorate degrees in medicine, the natural sciences and law earned the most out of all education level and field of training combinations. Degrees in technical fields, including engineering and computer science, pay off at all education levels.

Other Interesting Stats

The rate of college completion for the population 25 years and over grew from 11 percent in 1970 to 30 percent in 2009. With the expansion of higher education over the last several decades, a growing percentage of adults now hold postsecondary credentials.

  • In 2009, 45 percent of the adult population (aged 18 and over) had a degree or certificate above the high school level, up from 21 percent in 1984. This increase corresponds with an increase in postsecondary educational attainment at all levels, from vocational certificates to doctorate degrees.
  • In 1984, 3.4 percent of adults held an associate’s degree as their highest level of educational attainment, compared to 8.2 percent of adults in 2009. 
  • In 1984, 0.5 percent of the adult population held doctorate degrees, compared to 1.1 percent in 2009.

The process of earning a postsecondary degree is lengthy, and in 2009, people on average took longer than the target number of years to complete a degree or certificate. 

On average, people completed vocational certificates (typically one-year programs) in slightly less than two years and took over four years to complete associate’s degrees, which are typically two-year programs. 

  • People spent over five years earning bachelors and advanced degrees.
  • People spent the longest amount of time completing doctorate degrees, in an average of 9.3 years.


Publication Date: 4/25/2012

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