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Decline in Median Earnings of College Graduates

Friday, August 31, 2018

Decline in Median Earnings of Male College Graduates

The earnings of 25-to-34-year-olds who work full-time are lower today than they were in 2000 in almost every educational attainment group, according to a National Center for Education Statistics’ analysis of the Current Population Survey.

Young people well know that a college degree guarantees them higher earnings than their less-educated peers. What they may not know is this: A degree doesn’t guarantee them higher earnings than their college-educated counterparts in the past. As of 2016, the median earnings of men aged 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree who worked full-time were 9% below the median earnings of their counterparts in 2000. Today’s college graduates have less money to pay off much larger student loans.

Among all men aged 25 to 34 who work full-time, median earnings fell 2% between 2000 and 2016, after adjusting for inflation – from $44,880 to $43,970. By educational attainment, only high school dropouts saw their median earnings rise during the time period. The biggest earnings decline occurred among men with only some college, whose median earnings fell 14% between 2000 and 2016, after adjusting for inflation.

Median earnings of men aged 25 to 34 who work full-time by education, 2016 (and percent change in earnings since 2000; in 2016 dollars)

$28,560 for high school dropouts (+2.8%)
$34,750 for high school graduates only (-13.6%)
$37,980 for those with some college, no degree (-14.3%)
$43,000 for those with an associate’s degree (-11.8%)
$56,960 for those with a bachelor’s degree  (-8.8%)
$71,640 for those with a master’s or higher degree  (-6.4%)

Decline in Median Earnings of Female College Graduates

The earnings of 25-to-34-year-olds who work full-time are lower today than they were in 2000 in almost every educational attainment group, according to a National Center for Education Statistics’ analysis of the Current Population Survey. This is true for both men and women.

In 2016, the median earnings of women aged 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree who worked full-time were 7% below the median earnings of their counterparts in 2000. Young adults know that a college degree guarantees them higher earnings than their less-educated peers. What they don’t know is that a degree does not guarantee higher earnings than their college-educated counterparts in the past. Today’s college graduates have less money to pay off much larger student loans.

Among all women aged 25 to 34 who work full-time, median earnings increased 1% between 2000 and 2016, after adjusting for inflation – rising from $37,620 to $38,000. But by educational attainment, only high school dropouts saw their median earnings rise during the time period. The biggest earnings decline occurred among women with some college. Their median earnings fell 14% between 2000 and 2016, after adjusting for inflation.

Median earnings of women aged 25 to 34 who work full-time by education, 2016 (and percent change in earnings since 2000; in 2016 dollars)

$21,900 for high school dropouts (+5.0%)
$28,000 for high school graduates only (-7.2%)
$29,980 for those with some college, no degree (-13.8%)
$31,870 for those with an associate’s degree (-12.0%)
$44,990 for those with a bachelor’s degree (-7.5%)
$57,690 for those with a master’s or higher degree (-0.5%)

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