Parents and politicians tell ambitious young Americans that if they want a good job, they must go to college. But is higher education a foolproof path to a new job? Not necessarily, according to my new analysis of data from Census Bureau survey data, which shows that there’s a large degree of overlap in earnings between different education levels. While a third of America’s full-time workers with high school diplomas but no further education earn more than $48,000 per year, a third of college-educated full-time workers earn less than that.
Moreover, most jobs that offer workers with only a high school degree a high salary typically don’t require arduous labor or extensive specialized training: there are hundreds of thousands of secretaries and sales managers, for example, who earn comfortable middle-class salaries with only high school degrees. And while some low-earning college graduates have low salaries because they chose low-paying professions such as teaching and social work, many of them ended up working jobs for which college degrees are not actually required.
Connor Harris is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute and author of the recent report, The Earning Curve: Variability and Overlap in Labor-Market Outcomes by Education Level. Follow him on Twitter here.
Note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly described the median income figures presented in the above figures. The numbers presented there correspond to median incomes for HS and BA workers within each occupation, not to median incomes for the occupation as a whole. This piece has been updated.
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