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School and work

  • Economics
  • Education


NET.6/98 (Page 1) NationalEconomicTrends June 1998 School and Work It is a truism that education helps you get a job, but few people realize just how true this is. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has recently begun to publish employ- ment statistics broken down into four educational levels: About 17 percent of the noninstitutional population over age 25 has not finished high school; 34 percent finished high school, but did not attend college; 25 percent started college, but did not graduate or have an associate degree; and about 25 percent have a col- lege degree. This breakdown is more informative than a demographic one, because educational levels corre- spond much more closely than demographic categories to skill levels that employers care about. The chart shows employment-population ratios for the most and least educated groups. The two data series are plotted against different axes to highlight changes over time, but the difference in the levels is dramatic. During the first 4 months of 1998, an aver- age of only 39.6 percent of those who did not finish high school were at work, but 78.7 percent of college- educated adults held jobs. The figures for those with a high school diploma and those with some college lie in between, at 62.9 percent and 72.3 percent, respectively. Unemployment rates produce a less dramatic pic- ture, ranging from 7.1 percent for those who did not finish high school down to only 1.9 percent for those with a college degree. But official unemployment totals represent only a fraction of those who do not have jobs, so unemployment rates can be misleading about the economic opportunities of different groups. The statistical distinction between unemployed indi- viduals and those who are not in the labor force is based entirely on whether an individual searched for a job in the recent past. Workers with low skill lev- els (for which education is a good proxy) have limit- ed labor market opportunities—wages are low for jobs they can get. The value of oth

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