A By-the-Numbers Look at How Education Affects Employment

Not sure about your next career path? Thinking about using your GI Bill benefits to learn a new skill, get a degree, or earn additional certifications? Great ideas, all. And while it may seem like common sense, the numbers don’t lie: more education leads to better prospects for earnings and employment.

Numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) confirm that wages grow and joblessness decreases the higher one’s education goes. For example, workers with a professional degree had the highest median weekly earnings ($1,730) and lowest unemployment rate (1.5 percent) in 2015 of all groups shown. That’s more than triple the earnings ($493), and less than one-fifth the unemployment rate (8.0 percent) of workers with less than a high school diploma.

The data tells us the following about median weekly earnings and unemployment rate by educational attainment:

- The median weekly wage for all workers is $860 with a 4.3% median unemployment rate;

- Candidates with a doctoral degree earn $1,623 with an unemployment rate of 1.7%;

- Those with a professional degree earn $1,730 with a 1.5% unemployment rate;

- Master’s degree holders earn $1,341 with a 2.4% unemployment rate;

- Job candidates with bachelor’s degrees earn $1,137 with an unemployment rate of 2.8%;

- Those with associate’s degrees earn $798 with a 3.8% unemployment rate;

- Candidates with some college, but no degree earn $738 with a 5% rate of unemployment;

- A high school graduate makes $678 and also has a 5% unemployment rate;

- Someone who did not graduate high school earns $493 with an 8% rate of unemployment.

Data comes from the BLS Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of households that collects information about demographic and labor force characteristics. Data is based on persons age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers.

However, education does not bring with it a guarantee of either employment or wages. Other contributing factors include industry, geographic location, and experience all play a role. Additionally, what’s happening globally, political shifts, and changes within an industry can have affect employment numbers.

For example, a candidate with a degree in petroleum engineering can expect to earn an average annual salary of more than $125,000. Overall, that industry is poised to grow 10 percent between 2014 – 2024, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the oil and gas industry, while on the mend, is only beginning to recover from the recent industry downturn beginning in 2014, and oil prices are nowhere near levels seen several years ago.

Veteran job seekers are often in a unique position when they transition out of the military: they have gained the discipline, work ethic, and the means (via the GI Bill) to succeed virtually anywhere, including as a student. BLS data and resources, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, can provide more information about desirable occupations and career paths.