A recent article in the Wall Street Journal profiles two former high school classmates, who, fifteen years later, are facing two very different working lives. The first classmate, Tremell Sinclair, was laid off from his forklift-driving job last year and only just found a new one—at a 46 percent lower salary. The second, Phyllis Sellars, kept her white-collar job, recently landing a pay raise. The difference? Sellars went to college; Sinclair did not.
As the article points out, individuals with college degrees not only earn more than those without degrees do, they are also far more likely to keep their jobs when times get tough. It notes that the unemployment rate for workers ages twenty-five and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.6 percent in August, compared to 10.3 percent for those with just a high-school diploma. The current 5.7 percentage-point gap is more than double the 2.6 percentage-point gap from December 2007 when the recession began.
Even when college graduates are laid off, they tend to find work faster than their noncollege educated peers. According to the article, the median duration of unemployment for college graduates was 18.4 weeks as of August, compared with 27.5 weeks for high school graduates. Three years ago, the article notes, that figure was roughly the same for both groups—9.5 weeks and 9.6 weeks, respectively. Among the worst-off workers ages twenty-five and older, of the 5.2 million who have been out of work six months or more, only 19 percent are those who graduated from college, even though that group makes up one third of the work force.