Pay gap be­tween col­lege grads and ev­ery­one else at a record

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - LOCAL/ NATION - By CHRISTO­PHER S. RU­GABER AP Eco­nom­ics Writer

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.

The grow­ing dis­par­ity has be­come a source of frus­tra­tion for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans wor­ried that they — and their chil­dren — are los­ing eco­nomic ground.

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

“The post-Great Re­ces­sion econ­omy has di­vided the coun­try along a fault line de­mar­cated by col­lege ed­u­ca­tion,” An­thony Carnevale, di­rec­tor of Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity’s Cen­ter on Ed­u­ca­tion and the Work­force, said in a re­port last year.

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.

The dom­i­nance of col­lege grad­u­ates in the econ­omy is, if any­thing, ac­cel­er­at­ing. Last year, for the first time, a larger pro­por­tion of work­ers were col­lege grads (36 per­cent) than high school-only grads (34 per­cent), Carnevale’s re­search found. The num­ber of em­ployed col­lege grads has risen 21 per­cent since the re­ces­sion be­gan in De­cem­ber 2007, while the num­ber of em­ployed peo­ple with only a high school de­gree has dropped nearly 8 per­cent.

Be­hind the trend is a greater de­mand for ed­u­cated work­ers, and the re­tire­ment of older Amer­i­cans, who are more likely to be high schoolonly grad­u­ates.

The split is es­pe­cially stark among white men. For mid­dle-age white men with only high school de­grees — the core of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s sup­port — in­fla­tion-ad­justed in­come fell 9 per­cent from 1996 through 2014, ac­cord­ing to Sen­tier Re­search, an an­a­lyt­ics firm. By con­trast, in­come for white men in the same age bracket who are col­lege grad­u­ates jumped 23 per­cent.

Long af­ter the re­ces­sion ended, many young col­lege grad­u­ates strug­gled to find well-pay­ing jobs in a slowly re­cov­er­ing econ­omy, and sto­ries about grad­u­ates work­ing as cof­fee shop baris­tas abounded. But data col­lected by the New York Fed­eral Re­serve sug­gests that trend has faded as the econ­omy has im­proved.

Yet few ex­perts think the so­lu­tion is sim­ply to send more stu­dents to four-year 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 loads they will strug­gle to re­pay with­out a de­gree.

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