High school-only grads face widen­ing pay gap

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATIONAL & WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON — Amer­i­cans with no more than a high school diploma have fallen so far be­hind col­lege grad­u­ates in their eco­nomic lives that the earn­ings gap be­tween col­lege grads and every­one else has reached its widest point on record.

Col­lege grad­u­ates, on av­er­age, earned 56 per­cent more than high school grads in 2015, ac­cord­ing to data from the Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute. That was up from 51 per­cent in 1999 and is the largest such gap in the EPI’s fig­ures dat­ing to 1973.

Since the Great Re­ces­sion ended in 2009, col­lege-ed­u­cated work­ers have cap­tured most of the new jobs and en­joyed pay gains. Non-col­lege grads, by con­trast, have faced dwin­dling job op­por­tu­ni­ties and an over­all 3 per­cent de­cline in in­come, the EPI’s data show.

Col­lege grads have long en­joyed eco­nomic ad­van­tages over Amer­i­cans with less ed­u­ca­tion. But as the dis­par­ity widens, it is do­ing so in ways that go be­yond in­come, from home­own­er­ship to mar­riage to re­tire­ment.

Ed­u­ca­tion has be­come a di­vid­ing line that af­fects how Amer­i­cans vote, the like­li­hood that they will own a home and their geo­graphic mo­bil­ity.

Yet few ex­perts think the so­lu­tion is sim­ply to send more stu­dents to fouryear col­leges. Many young peo­ple ei­ther don’t want to spend more years in school or aren’t pre­pared to do so. Al­ready, four in ev­ery 10 col­lege stu­dents drop out be­fore grad­u­at­ing — of­ten with debt they will strug­gle to re­pay with­out a de­gree.

Rather, la­bor econ­o­mists say, many high school grads would ben­e­fit from a more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to ob­tain­ing skills, es­pe­cially in­volv­ing tech­nol­ogy, that are in­creas­ingly in de­mand.

“If the only path you of­fer them is a tra­di­tional col­lege path, they’re not go­ing to be suc­cess­ful,” says Harry Holzer, an econ­o­mist at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity.

Help­ing lift high school grad­u­ates’ skill lev­els is crit­i­cal, given the many ways they are lag­ging be­hind their col­lege-ed­u­cated peers:

They’re less likely to have a job. Just twothirds of high school-only grads ages 25 through 64 were em­ployed in 2015, down sharply from 73 per­cent in 2007. For col­lege grad­u­ates in the same age group, em­ploy­ment dipped only slightly from 84 to 83 per­cent.

They are less likely to be mar­ried. In 2008, mar­riage rates for col­legee­d­u­cated 30-year-olds sur­passed those of high school-only grads for the first time.

High school-only grads are less likely to own homes. Sixty-four per­cent are cur­rent home­own­ers, down from 70 per­cent in 2000. By con­trast, three-quar­ters of bach­e­lor’s de­gree hold­ers are home­own­ers, down slightly from 77 per­cent in 2000, ac­cord­ing to real es­tate data firm Zil­low.

Col­lege grads are more likely than high school-only grad­u­ates to con­trib­ute to a 401(k)-style re­tire­ment plan, ac­cord­ing to re­search by Christo­pher Tam­borini of the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Changh­wan Kim, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Kansas. Col­lege grads con­trib­uted 26 per­cent more even when mem­bers of both groups had sim­i­lar in­comes and ac­cess to such plans, their re­search found.

Some of these trends even­tu­ally might ease if more high school grads ac­quire the skills needed for higher-pay­ing work. Though many mid­dlein­come jobs don’t re­quire col­lege, nearly all re­quire some post-high school ed­u­ca­tion or train­ing.

Some are mak­ing progress. Asia Howard, 26, of Jack­sonville, Fla., was stuck in mostly re­tail and fast-food jobs af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school, un­able to get a job in bank­ing, a pro­fes­sion she prized for its steady hours.

A friend told her about a non­profit called Year Up, which teaches such ca­reer skills as ré­sumé writ­ing, in­ter­view­ing tech­niques and time man­age­ment.

Un­like in her pre­vi­ous jobs, “I can see a lot of room to grow,” she says.

By The As­so­ci­ated Press

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

High school-only grad Asia Howard of Jack­sonville, Fla., landed a job in mortage lend­ing af­ter get­ting train­ing.

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