High-Wage Occupations Leading Post-Recession Job Growth, Educational Attainment Critical

Despite media reports that the most recent economic recovery has been largely driven by job growth in low-paying positions, a new report from the Georgetown Center for Workforce and Education finds that it is actually high-paying jobs that are leading this growth, and nearly all of them are going to individuals with at least a college degree. According to Good Jobs Are Back: College Graduates Are First in Line, during the economic recovery from 2010 to 2014, good jobs – those that pay more than $53,000 annually and are more likely to be full-time and offer benefits – represented 44 percent of all job gains, or 2.9 million jobs. Low-wage jobs paying $32,000 or less accounted for just 27 percent (1.8 million) of the jobs added in the recovery, while middle-wage jobs represented 29 percent (1.9 million jobs). Using a methodology that segments populations of workers by occupations rather than industries, the authors are able to compare individuals with similar sets of skills and who earn similar wages against each other, providing a more accurate picture of the economic recovery.

Of the 2.9 million good jobs added during the recovery, 2.8 million (97 percent) went to those with at least a bachelor degree. While 152,000 workers with some college or an associate degree filled the remaining spots, workers with a high school diploma or less lost 39,000 good jobs since the beginning of the recovery. Less educated workers lost jobs at every wage tier during the recovery, including 280,000 middle-wage jobs and 159,000 low-wage jobs.

More than three-in-five good jobs created during the economic recovery were managerial and professional office jobs, though STEM occupations, healthcare professionals and technical occupations were also major areas of growth. Of jobs that were lost after the recession, more than 70,000 were blue collar and more than 180,000 were in education professions. Although the report finds that low-wage jobs have fully recovered, they are doing so at a slower rate, less likely to be full-time, and less likely to offer benefits than good-jobs.  Medium-wage jobs, however, in which traditionally blue-collar occupations allowed for less-educated individuals to earn higher-wages, have largely been replaced by low-wage work.

Ultimately, these findings suggest the importance of educational attainment in the post-recession job market. As higher-wage jobs increasingly go towards individuals with higher skills, the gaps between those that completed college and those who did not will continue to widen. Although increased educational attainment is unlikely to completely fix inequality, it is shown to increase average earnings and the likelihood of being employed. Furthermore, as the report shows, it is becoming necessary to procure a good job.

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