Last year, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers was asked whether college is still worth it, given soaring tuition. "I think a college education is expensive, but it is very cheap compared to ignorance," he said. "Those who suggest the irrelevance of knowledge in a knowledge economy are very much barking up the wrong tree."
I played around with some employment data this weekend and found a way to show what he means:
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics; author's calculations.
Since 2000, total employment for those with bachelor's degrees has increased 31%. For those with some college, it's up about 9%. For high school grads with no college, it's down 9%. And for those without a high school diploma, it's down 16%.
There could be some demographic explanations here. The value of an education was much lower 50 years ago than it is today, so the number of uneducated workers might be falling in part because older workers who enjoyed a successful careers without much schooling are retiring. And as a larger share of the population gets a college education, the number of workers with a degree will rise even if they're in low-skill work.
But that's nitpicking. We know the bigger picture: The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree is 3.7%, versus 12% for those without a high school diploma (both for ages 25 and up).
Story after story has highlighted the burden of rising tuition and student loans -- rightly, of course. It's a big problem. But the most important story isn't how expensive school has become; it's how expensive forgoing school can be.
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