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Today’s Lower-Earning College Grads Earn Less

Topics: Data & Research

Although college graduates as a whole earn more than workers without degrees, many aren’t much better off than new grads in the year 2000. A recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, which was reported on by CBS News, compares today’s wages to those at the turn of the 21st century. One group in particular isn’t doing much better than they did 17 years ago – lower-earning college grads.

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In 2000, the economy was toward the end of a recent expansion. So, comparing today’s data with that marker provides some interesting information. Does this data suggest that the economy isn’t improving as much as some claim — or that skills don’t matter as much as we’ve been lead to believe?

“I don’t think it’s a skills story,” Elise Gould, senior economist at EPI and author of the report told CBS News. “Even if we look at people with a college degree, the bottom half have lower wages than in 2000. There’s a pulling apart at the very top.”

The Real Problem Is Rising Wage Inequality

College graduates, on average, earn more than workers without degrees. The average high-school graduate earned $17.25 in 2016, while the average hourly earnings for college graduates was $31.93. However, median earnings stood at $24.99 per hour in 2016, which is about 1.5 percent less than in the year 2000. Workers whose earnings fell below that median mark earned less in 2016 than they did in 2000, but those in the 60th percentile and above earned more.

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In short, the problem is wage inequality.

According to research from UC-Berkeley, income inequality has been on the rise since the 1970s, reaching levels similar to 1928 just a few years ago.

The Value of an Education

While a college degree is not guarantee of higher pay, it’s still generally in workers’ best interests to get an education. Between 2000 and 2016, wages increased for college graduates — although not enough to make up for rise in wage inequality that happened over that time. Since 2007, the top 20 percent of earners have seen the strongest wage growth.

For more information, be sure to check out the full analysis on the state of American wages from the Economic Policy Institute.

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How has your pay changed over the years? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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