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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Pew Research Finds Almost No Gains for Young College Grads Over Last Quarter Century

Pew Research Finds Almost No Gains for Young College Grads Over Last Quarter Century

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 06:15

Most NYT readers probably would have missed this fact, since the blog post highlighted the growing gap between the pay of recent college grads and those with less than a college degree. While Pew did find a large increase in the gap, almost all of this was due to a fall in the year-round pay of less-educated workers.

In the 27 years from 1986 to 2013, Pew found that the median wage for full-time workers between the ages of 25-32 with college degrees increased from $44,770 in 1986 to $45,500 in 2013, a rise of 1.6 percent. This comes to an increase of 0.06 percent a year. By comparison, productivity rose 72.5 percent over this period, an average of 2.0 percent per year over this period.

It is also worth noting that the unemployment rate for college educated workers of all ages was 3.7 percent in 2013. This is higher than for any year prior to the recession since this series was started in 1992. 

While those without college degrees have been big losers, the Pew study shows that young people with college degrees have not been big winners in the economy over the last quarter century.


Note: 1986 wage corrected, thanks Michiganmitch.

Comments (7)Add Comment
Count Your Blessings America: It Could Be Worse Compared to the Worst Off
written by Last Mover, February 12, 2014 6:30

And all this time educated Americans thought they had become worse off instead of better off by you know, how those pesky productivity gains were skimmed off and redistributed to economic predators who never earned them.

But now we know that's not what happened is it. Relatively speaking, the educated class is much better off than the uneducated class below them aren't they. Even though both classes fell sharply relative to the rising 1% who were siphoning off their earnings, the difference between the two lower classes is what matters isn't it.

The educated class of America should be forever grateful for the uneducated class below them, who gave up so much in order to hold up the educated class above them, to which they aspire to become someday and close the difference gap.

If not for the relative difference between the two, America would be forced to admit that in fact, both classes fell off an economic cliff because the relative difference between the economic predators in the 1% and everyone else is the difference that really counts, isn't it.

You know, the ones who traded political democracy and free speech, free market competition and economic efficiency, for the economic liberty to privatize and monetize anything in sight with monopoly prices combined with exploited labor, not to mention all accomplished above a huge safety net of socialized losses.

Go ahead America, get all the educational degrees you like. You won't be gaining entry into the sacred halls of the 1% anytime soon, but at least you can look below you and feel better off in relative terms.
written by Michiganmitch, February 12, 2014 7:05
You said, "for full-time workers between the ages of 25-32 with college degrees increased from $24,770 in 1986 to $45,500 in 2013, a rise of 1.6 percent. This comes to an increase of 0.06 percent a year." I am not getting the math. How does this increase compute to only 1.6%??? Please explain.
Another Tendentious Pew Study
written by LSTB, February 12, 2014 7:32
The Pew's paper is proudly titled, "The Rising Cost of Not Going to College," yet for some reason it doesn't discuss people who go to college but don't make much money nonetheless.

You don't need to look through outgoing rotation group microdata to figure out that in any given year, at least 20 percent of college graduates aged 25-34 earn less than the median high school graduate in the same age bracket.

(Source: Census Bureau Personal Income Tables, Commenter's Calculations)

This doesn't appear to be a particularly good outcome.

What astonishes me is that Pew is using survey data of Millenials' perceptions to evade empirical evidence that college does not in fact always pay off.
written by Bloix, February 12, 2014 1:12
The data are consistent with the explanation that employers are imposing college degree requirements on jobs that used to go to people with HS diplomas and perhaps a couple of years of work experience - that is, the degree requirement shuts qualified people out of good jobs, rather than being an indication of job-required skills acquired through education.
written by urban legend, February 12, 2014 3:18
There is an inherent statistical distribution aspect to this that isn't being mentioned. College graduates are a considerably higher proportion of that age group than they were in 1986. That means those without college degrees are at a lower part of the overall distribution of wages. If there is a bell curve to that distribution, a small reduction in that portion could have big wage effects.
written by Jambu Shambu, February 13, 2014 1:10
I'd like to this same data split out for 2009-2014 and for 2000-2009. I graduated college in 1998. My first job was $55K. During the horrible Bush years, my income increased steadily into the $60s, $70s, $80s and then jumped into six figures in 2004. By 2008 I grossed $155K. In 2014 I will be around $160-170K. So in real terms I am making less money today than when Obama came into office, while during the evil, horrible Bush years, my income tripled.

written by DJB, February 18, 2014 7:40

wonder how this looks if you factor in debt

ie student loan debt

is their financial situation worse??

i mean last mover says everythings fine, they are doing just as well, i dont believe that for a minute

also does this factor in the unemployment rate or does it just include the employed college graduates

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.