Georgetown University Center on Education and WorkforceLaunch of the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University two new reports which showed that at age 35, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are almost twice as likely as workers with only a high school diploma to get a good job. Yet, race, class and gender disparities compound inequalities on the unequal path to good jobs as well as wealth.
“We’ve found that the story of Millennials’ transition into the workforce is more nuanced than people usually depict,” said Kathryn Campbell, associate director of editorial policy and editor/editor at CEW as well as one of the authors of the report. “If you have a bachelor’s degree, you’re in a pretty strong position compared to baby boomers of the same age. But for all other groups without a bachelor’s degree, there is more lag. And that lag really has implications for how strong your position is in terms of economic independence.
Both reports came from CEW’s “The Uncertain Pathway from Youth to a Good Job,” which is funded by a philanthropic investment from JPMorgan Chase. One of the reports examined how the path to economic independence for young people in adulthood has shifted from one generation to the next. The second report exposed the persistent opportunity gaps between demographic groups, particularly by race and gender.
Reports define a good job as paying at least $35,000 a year and $57,000 at the national median for young workers, or those between the ages of 25 and 35. According to reports, about 80% of older millennials with a bachelor’s degree or higher had a good job by age 35, compared to 56% of those with a college or associate degree, 42% of those with have only a high school diploma and 26% of those without a high school diploma.
One of the report’s authors, Artem Gulish, senior policy strategist and research professor at CEW, highlighted how race, gender and ethnicity, in addition to education level, shape pathways to good employment. . And even then, a good job does not mean wealth.
“What we’re seeing is that discrimination in society fundamentally continues to play a role,” Gulish said.
For example, the median net worth of young white men with no more than a high school diploma is more than 2.5 times that of young black women with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Black women have disproportionate student debt, reports note, contributing to a wealth gap. Bias within the workforce also plays a role in unequal pay and promotion for black women.
Overall, young women also have higher levels of post-secondary education than young men. But at all levels of education, young women are still less likely to have a good job than young men of the same racial or ethnic group, according to reports.
“A person can make all the ‘right choices’ to get on the path to a good job and still end up in a place where they don’t have a good job,” Campbell said. “We’d like people to apply this data to expand equal opportunity options so people can find themselves in jobs that allow them to have the life they want to live.”
The researchers pointed to the long-term consequences for young people having a slow path to good jobs. These consequences include postponement of home ownership, marriage, childbirth and independent living. Campbell pointed out that the CEW considers income and net worth results “not just as money for the money, but for the life you want.”
For Nyema Mitchell, director of the Advancement Unit of Jobs for the Future (JFF), a nonprofit organization aimed at making America’s workforce and education systems more equitable, the findings on racial inequality and gender were particularly striking.
“Something has to be different from what we’re doing right now,” Mitchell said. “Because yes, more education has translated into better wages over time for all groups. But for some, this increase was much larger, and not so much for others. To me, this is an indicator of a larger systemic problem that just getting more education has yet to solve. This is why we need policy changes that target specific groups.
She insisted on improving career guidance for young people by paying attention to the structural barriers faced by certain groups. Part of this work involves developing the cultural competency of counselors to help students envision their career goals and long-term earnings.
Dr. Robert Kelchen, professor of higher education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, added that the findings of these reports on the overall importance of getting a bachelor’s degree to land a good job are likely still valid in the long term. But they may have less sway in the short term in today’s tight labor market.
“For the past two years, it’s been easier to get a job that pays $18 or $20 an hour without a college education,” Kelchen said. “So you could be making about $40,000 a year. The big question is what will happen in the next recession. Will those good jobs that don’t require a college education stick around? Historically, they didn’t.
Rebecca Kelliher can be reached at [email protected]