Report: Job Growth Largely Benefits College-Educated Workers

By Allie Arcese, Sr. Director of Strategic Communications & Engagement

Quick Takeaways:

  • Of the 6.6 million jobs added during the economic recovery since 2010, 2.9 million (44 percent) were “good jobs” that pay more than $53,000 annually and often come with health insurance and retirement benefits.
  • Nearly all of the high-paying jobs (97 percent) went to college graduates.
  • Middle- and low-wage jobs were significantly more likely to be filled by workers with some college or an associate degree.
  • The fastest-growing occupations among the good jobs added were managerial, STEM and health care professionals.

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

The surge in jobs during the economic recovery has mainly benefited college-educated workers, as millions of high-paying jobs with benefits have materialized over the last several years, according to a new study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

According to the study, while there are certainly still a number of overqualified workers in low-wage jobs, those college graduates represent the minority of the workforce these days. Since 2010, 2.9 million good jobs – which the researchers describe as those paying more than $53,000 annually for a full-time, full-year worker – were added, out of 6.6 million jobs total during the recovery. Nearly all of those jobs (97 percent) went to college graduates.

By comparison, there were 1.9 million middle-wage jobs – those that pay between $32,000 and $53,000 annually – and 1.8 million low-wage jobs – those that pay less than $32,000 annually – added during the same time. Middle- and low-wage jobs were significantly more likely to be filled by workers with some college or an associate degree.

“This has been a weak recovery, but the American job machine is working again for college graduates,” said Anthony Carnevale, the center’s director and the lead author of the report, in a statement.

Still, the tale often told in the media features college graduates who are unable to find work and resort to part-time positions or others for which they’re overqualified. Part of the reason the Georgetown study presents a different picture, the researchers explain, is because the analysis used occupations to group jobs, rather than industries.

“If only the industry average earnings are used to sort jobs, then everyone from the CEO to a janitor who works at the same firm is assigned the same average pay,” the report says. “Yet the skills required and the wages paid are vastly different among workers who are employed in the same industry, but in different occupations.”

Overall, the good jobs detailed in the report were more likely to have health insurance (68 percent) and retirement benefits (61 percent). The good jobs also grew much more quickly than middle- and low-wage jobs – while all three job groups grew by roughly the same amount between 2010 and 2011, by 2012 the growth of good jobs far outpaced that of both middle-wage and low-wage jobs, with nearly twice as many good jobs as middle-wage jobs.

Of the 2.9 million good jobs that were created during the recovery, the majority were in managerial and professional office occupations (1.8 million), followed by science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupations (881,000) and health care professional and technical occupations (445,000). Blue-collar jobs had the fastest growth in middle-wage jobs, while food, personal services, sales and office support, as well as blue-collar jobs, accounted for most of the growth among low-wage jobs.

“The numbers are clear: postsecondary education is important for gaining access to job opportunities in the current economy, and job seekers with Bachelor’s degrees or higher have the best odds of securing good jobs,” the report says.

Still, the outcome isn’t the same for all college graduates.

A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – detailed in The New York Times this week – claims a college degree doesn’t always shield graduates from economic downturns. In fact, the financial buffer appeared almost nonexistent, and at times harmful, for Hispanic and African-American college graduates. College graduates across racial and ethnic groups out-earned their non-college-educated peers by at least two times, but having a degree did not result in short-term or long-term financial gains for black and Hispanic families, the report said.

While college graduates typically accumulate more money in the long run compared with their non-college-educated peers, that was not the case for black and Hispanic families, the researchers found. The median income of college-educated white and Asian families grew by 13 percentage points and 31 percentage points, respectively, between 1992 and 2013, compared with their peers who did not graduate from college. But the opposite was true for Hispanic and black families – their incomes fell 10 percent and 12 percent, respectively, according to the report, while the median incomes of black and Hispanic families without college graduates rose 16 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

The report concludes that further research is needed into the complexities of the issue.

“Evidence presented here suggests that college degrees alone do not provide short-term wealth protection, nor do they guarantee long-term wealth accumulation,” the report says. “The underlying factors causing racial and ethnic wealth disparities undoubtedly are complex and deeply rooted.”


Publication Date: 8/18/2015

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