Economic Recovery Only Exists for Some

Construction workers

Recent studies show folks with less education are still struggling during the supposed economic recovery.
Image: bcgovphotos / Flickr CC

The recession may be “over,” but its after effects are still running rampant. According to recent studies, Americans with at least a little higher education are doing fairly well when it comes to jobs. Folks without a college education, however, are still struggling.

Since 2010, 11.6 million jobs have been added to the economy, but about 99% of those jobs—that’s about 11.5 million jobs—were filled by people with at least some college education, generally a bachelor’s degree or better. Only 80,000 jobs went to workers with a high school diploma or less, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

“It’s not just a factor of a more education population,” said study co-author Tamara Jayasundera in an interview. “The labor market is demanding a more skilled workforce.”

Society is changing. Industries need more skilled workers. The manufacturing sector, which used to employ many people with less education, has turned to automation for clerical, administrative, and hands-on jobs like construction. The sorts of positions they still hire for tend to require higher education.

It’s a trend all over: The Georgetown study found that in 2016, for the first time, the share of people in the workforce with a bachelor’s degree or higher overtook those with a high school diploma or less.

Of course there are still opportunities for folks without higher education to work their way up to mid-level jobs and provide for their families. But those opportunities are dwindling. Meanwhile, the cost of education is on the rise, and many more people are going into significant debt just to make it to undergrad.

Another study by Stuart Andreason (“Will Talent Attraction and Retention Improve Metropolitan Labor Markets?”) found that this increase in laborers with higher education isn’t even necessarily better for the economy. The increase generally causes one of two outcomes: Earnings per job increase, but inequality, unemployment, and poverty rates rise; or income inequality growth is low and poverty rates decline, but earnings per job stagnate or go down.

There’s no easy answer to the situation, unfortunately. But with the economy and labor force under heavy scrutiny, it’s possible we’ll be able to find a way to increase job availability for people with many different educational backgrounds.


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