Income Gap Grows Between College and High School Graduates

A college degree is still the ticket to prosperity — but some majors are a better bet than others. Find out more.

Income Gap Grows Between College and High School Graduates Photo (cc) by romanboed

Some people have questioned in recent years whether college is still worth the cost. But new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show that wages of college graduates continue to pull further ahead of the pay of high school graduates. .

The median annual wage of recent college graduates with bachelor’s degrees increased from $39,992 in 2014 to $43,000 last year, according to the New York Fed.

By contrast, the median annual wage of people with a high school diploma decreased every year from 2009 to 2014. Wages for this cohort increased from 2014 to 2015, but only by $7, reaching $25,002.

The data were released as part of the New York Fed’s new interactive Web feature, “The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates,” which is designed “to provide data on a wide range of job market metrics for recent college graduates, including trends in unemployment rates, underemployment rates and wages,” according to a New York Fed blog post published Friday.

CBS MoneyWatch reports that Richard Deitz, an assistant vice president at the New York Fed and co-writer of that blog post, says that parents and students who question whether college is worth the cost are asking the wrong question:

“The real question is, what would your prospects be without a degree? The prospects for people without a degree have been falling further and further behind.

People with college degrees, even during and after the recession, tended to see higher wages.”

Deitz explains:

“The demand for skills for the past few decades has been rising and outstripping supply. That’s why the college wage premium has been rising.”

Unemployment and underemployment rates vary among college grads, though, with some degrees offering better prospects than others.

For example, the New York Fed found that the worst majors, as judged by the unemployment rate of graduates with such degrees, are geography and anthropology. Graduates who majored in either subject have an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent.

Deitz says that majors with quantitative skills —such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors — and majors that are related to growing parts of the economy, like education and health care, tend to have much lower unemployment rates.

What’s your take on the New York Fed’s analysis? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More


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