Wages and Earnings:
Difference in Median Earnings Between a High School Diploma and a Bachelors Degree

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For the Year

Median Earnings by Degree-Level

Why is this measure important?

These data indicate the personal financial gain, within each state, of achieving higher levels of educational attainment. The data are provided for all workers ages 25 to 64, 25 to 44, and 45 to 64 (a reflection of the earnings for the young workforce and older workforce). The median annual earnings are for those employed 35 or more hours per week.

What policy issues are associated with them?

The difference in earnings between a high school diploma and an associates or bachelor's degree reflects the personal financial reward in each state for earning a college degree. States with relatively low returns on a college degree are likely to have economies that demand relatively few college graduates. Also, in some states, primarily those with large manufacturing sectors, employees with just a high school diploma (or less) are rewarded with relatively high wages while their counterparts with college degrees make low wages relative to other states. Given the constant decline of employment in the manufacturing sector in all states across the US, how will these states keep or improve their relative position in personal per capita income and the strength of the states' tax base?

States with low returns on associates and bachelor's attainment are more likely to lose these residents to other states with more vibrant economies that reward college graduates with relatively higher pay.

Another policy implication arises when one compares and contrasts the difference in earnings from high school completion to associates and bachelor's completion and the in-state degree production by degree-level. For example, some states produce relatively large numbers of bachelor's degrees with a low in-state personal financial return, while also producing very few associates degrees with a large personal return. These states are the likely to export bachelor's degree holders while importing needed associates degree-holders to fill jobs requiring associate degrees (e.g. engineering tech, heath tech, licensed practical nurses, etc.).

What other factors should you consider?

It's useful to look at many of the measures linked to the "Competitiveness" section of the site, which help to provide a broad picture of the strength of each state's workforce and economy.