As weekly jobless claims were reported today as less than expected, it brings jobs in the U.S. back to the spotlight. Although it is refreshing to see positive data such as this, we understand that there are many seasonal factors that are at play that can cause these short-term statistics to fluctuate unexpectedly. Looking at the longer term unemployment rate we see that the rate has held at 8.2 percent, marking the 41st consecutive month that joblessness has been above 8 percent—this is the longest stretch of such high levels in the post-World War II era. Taking a closer look at this statistic reveals something interesting: The chart below breaks down the unemployment rate by levels of education. While an individual with less than a high school degree faces an unemployment rate of 13% as of May 2012, an individual who has a “college or above” level of education faces a 3.9% unemployment rate.
Although it’s not surprising that securing a job becomes easier with increasing levels of education, the chart shows that employer emphasis on education level is trending higher. Another point of interest is there’s very little difference in the unemployment rate between an individual who has some college versus one who has a high school education but no college education at all. This should encourage students who have started college to put a stronger emphasis on finishing, rather than dropping out, since the benefit of a college education is minimal in terms of employment unless one finishes and receives the degree.
This data affects all of us in one way or another, whether we’re considering a career change, encouraging children to attend/finish college, supporting universities, or simply becoming more aware of the social cost of higher unemployment and ways we can combat it. There are many things in our economy that at times seem far beyond our control, however, the above chart shows that this is one area where our choices about education can truly make a difference in the employment environment that faces our family, community and country.