An American fault line: High school-only grads left behind

WASHINGTON – Americans with no more than a high school diploma have fallen so far behind graduates in their economic lives that the income gap between college grads and everyone else has reached the widest point on the plate.

The growing inequality has become a source of frustration for millions of Americans are worried that they — and their children — are losing economic ground.

Graduates on average earned 56 percent more than high school grads in 2015, according to data collected by the Economic Policy Institute. That was 51 percent in 1999 and is the largest gorge in the EPI’s figures date back to 1973.

Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, college-educated workers have captured most of the new jobs and enjoyed pay gains. Non-college grads, by contrast, faced with declining employment and an overall decline of 3 percent in earnings, EPI’s data shows.

“The post-Great Recession economy has divided the country along a fault line delineated by the college of education,” Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said in a report last year.

College grads have long enjoyed the economic benefits compared to Americans with less education. But as inequality increases, is to do it in a way that goes beyond the income from homeownership to marriage to retirement. Education has become a dividing line that affect how the Americans will vote, the chances that they own a house and their geographical mobility.

The dominance of the graduates in the economy is, if anything, accelerating. Last year, for the first time, that a larger proportion of the employees were college grads (36 percent) than high school only grads (34 percent), Carnevale’s research found. The number of employed college grads has risen 21 percent since the recession began in December 2007, while the number of workers with only a high school degree fell from almost 8 per cent.

Behind the trend is a greater demand for well-trained employees, and the retirement of the older Americans, who are probably high school-only graduates.

The split is especially strong among white men. For the middle-age white men with only high school degrees — the core of President-elect, Donald Trump’s support for inflation-adjusted income has declined 9 percent from 1996 until 2014, according to Sentier Research, an analysis firm. By contrast, earnings for white men in the same age group that graduates jumped to 23 percent.

Long after the recession ended, many young graduates struggling to find a well-paid jobs in a slowly recovering economy, and stories about graduates working as coffee shop baristas in abundance. But the data collected by the Federal bank of New York suggests that the trend has faded as the economy has improved.

A few experts think that the solution is simply to send more students in four-year colleges. Many young people do not want to spend more years in school or are not prepared to do that. Already four in 10 students drop out before graduation, often with debt they will struggle to pay back without a degree.

On the contrary, labor economists say, many high school grads would benefit from a more integrated approach for obtaining skills, especially when it comes to the technology, which is still in demand.

“As the only way that you offer them is a traditional college path, they are not going to be successful,” says Harry Holzer, an economist at the University of Georgetown.

The help of an elevator high school graduates’ levels is of crucial importance, given the many ways in which they are behind their college-educated peers:

— They are less likely to have a job. Only two-thirds of the high school-only grads ages 25 to 64 were employed in 2015, down sharply from 73 percent in 2007. For graduates in the same age group, employment was baptized only slightly from 84 percent to 83 percent.

— They are less likely to be married. In 2008, the marriage rates for college-educated 30-year-olds exceeded that of the high-school-only grads for the first time. And women with academic qualifications enjoy an 8-in-10 chance of their first marriage lasting 20 years, according to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. That’s double the opportunity for women with a high school degree.

— High school-only grads are less likely to own homes. Sixty-four percent of today’s homeowners, 70 percent in 2000. By contrast, three-quarters of the bachelor’s-degree holders are homeowners, which is a slight decrease from 77 percent in 2000, according to real estate data company Zillow.

— A college-educated employee is now more likely to belong to a trade union than of a high-school-only worker is, according to the Pew Research Center. Trade unions have played an important role in the education pay for the members. Only 6 percent of workers with only a high school diploma are now one. Public employee unions, who are often teachers and others with an academic training, have generally maintained staying power and large industrial unions have deteriorated.

— College grads are more likely than high school-only graduates to contribute to a 401(k)-style retirement plan, according to research by Christopher Tamborini of the Social Security Administration, and Changhwan Kim, a professor of sociology at the University of Kansas. College grads contributed 26 percent more even if the members of both groups were similar in income and the access to such plans, their research found.

icipation in 401(k)-style plans is required, to decide whether and how much you want to contribute and how to invest — that can be barriers for the less educated. That is in contrast with the traditional pensions, which will be automatically registered for all eligible and provided defined benefits. But traditional pensions are quickly being phased out.

— Graduates are more likely to find work than high school-only workers, says Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. Companies tend to recruit and, more generally, for high-skilled jobs than for low-skilled work.

“Graduates are essentially in a national labor market,” Moretti said.

All of this has contributed to a sharp political split in the presidential election. Graduates favorite Hillary Clinton by 9 percentage points. Non-college grads chose Donald Trump with 8 points, according to exit polls. That was the biggest difference between the two groups on record since 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.

“These are some of the largest (demographic) shifts in the past few years,” said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director at Pew.

The difference is most pronounced among whites: Nearly two-thirds of white, non-college grads voted for Trump, compared to only 45 percent of whites with college degrees.

Some of these trends may eventually reverse itself as more high school grads acquire the skills needed for higher-paying work. Although many middle-income jobs require no college, almost all require some post-high school education or training.

What Holzer calls the “new middle” includes, for example, the healthcare job as X-ray technicians and phlebotomists, as well as computer-controlled production and some office professionals, such as paralegals.

A typical X-ray technician, for example, earn almost $ 60,000 a year and has only a two-year degree, according to the government data.

And this “new middle” positions are usually the same jobs for which employers have complained that they can’t find enough qualified people to fill. Labour experts say that the AMERICAN education system is not to help young people acquire such skills.

If they know where to look, high school graduates can choose from numerous options for vocational skills training — two-year-programs online courses at for-profit schools. Many will probably not be of much help to the high school guidance counselors.

Joseph Fuller, a professor at the Harvard Business School, says that coaches are more and more focus on things such as substance abuse, discipline and standardized testing, instead of on career advice.

Neither the AMERICAN high schools funnel students in the form of on-the-job apprenticeships that exist in some countries. Instead, says Fuller, AMERICAN students are usually older workers to upgrade their skills in the field of construction. The average age of a student in Germany is 17, he noted; in the United States, it is 27.

“We have a very limited view on how people from their graduation in the high school on a path that will lead to a successful, independent life,” Fuller said.

Asia Howard, 26, Jacksonville, Florida, is the navigation on that path now. She was stuck in the mainly retail and fast-food jobs after graduation from high school, not able to find a job in the banking industry, a profession where she is praised for her constant hours. A friend told her about a non-profit called Year, which teaches such career skills such as cv writing, interview techniques and time management.

Year To the participants typically also receive internships, which Howard paid to Everbank. She also took classes to upgrade her computer skills. At the beginning of last year she started a job in mortgage lending at PNC Financial that pays almost double what she earned in my previous jobs. She saw many people lose their homes during the financial crisis. Now, she helps people to buy them.

“It gives me a chance to see what that side of life,” Howard said. And in contrast to her previous jobs, “I can see that there is a lot of room to grow.” She is also studying for an associate’s degree in business administration at the Florida State College in Jacksonville.

The driving force behind much of this change was the recession, which is again the labour market in a way that left far fewer opportunities for employees as Howard. Many routine tasks have been replaced by computers or robots or were outsourced abroad.

There are almost 1.5 million fewer office administrative and clerical jobs than before the recession, according to an analysis by the Centre of Georgetown on Education and the Workforce. That narrowed a long-time path to the middle class for the high school graduates, particularly women.

Manufacturing employment is 1.5 million lower than when the recession began in 2007. The construction had offered a lifeline to a lot of high-school educated workers, particularly men, during the housing boom in the 2000s. But the building now has 840,000 fewer people than nine years ago.

Since the recession, is the fastest growing industry for the high school only grads is a usually low-paying sector includes restaurants, hotels, amusement parks, according to Georgetown analysis.

That are the kind of jobs that Crystal Thompson, 35, of Seattle, has kept because she was done with high school. She has worked at Domino’s Pizza for seven years.

“The only jobs that there are quite a lot of minimum wage jobs in coffee shops, restaurants, things like that,” she said. “I’m pretty much stuck in the fast food for now.”

Her calls have come from minimum wage increases. They went on strike twice during Seattle’s most recent “Fight for $15” campaign, which the city council to approve a citywide $15 minimum wage.

Thompson, who has three children, wants to go back to school to be a translator. She is mostly fluent in Spanish. Nevertheless, they will find it difficult to do this in part because her work schedule can fluctuate and is usually distributed just a day in advance.

The nearest community college lacks the classes in the medical and legal translations they require. These classes are offered at another community college within a half hour drive, so she needs to buy a car to attend.

“It’s definitely one of my goals to what kind of career to go,” she says. “I want to be a productive member of society.”


AP Writer Collin Binkley contributed to this story from Boston.


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