The Washington Post

Research Desk: Just How Good Have College Grads Got It?

Commenter holtzeidler asks:

People tell me that the unemployment crisis is just hype, and that if you have a college degree the unemployment rate is 4%. Now, the 4% number is true but is misleading people into thinking that unemployment is only affecting the uneducated. Can you run the cross-section of both age and education combined? My suspicion is that the 4% is misleading because it’s an average ... that most people with college degrees have managed to keep jobs they already have, while new grads are suffering just like everyone else.

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have detailed age/education cross-sections for unemployment data, but we can look separately at their data on age and education to test holtzeidler’s theory. First, it’s very much the case that younger people face higher unemployment rates:

What’s more, out of 16-24 year olds who have college degrees, the unemployment rate is 8.1%, or double that of college graduates in general, suggesting that, as holtzeidler says, recent graduates have it unusually bad. But it’s worth noting as well that young college graduates are doing very well relative to young people who didn’t go to college:

Obviously, correlation isn’t causation, and it’s likely that factors other than a college education itself (such as college graduates having wealthier backgrounds, or flocking to areas with better job markets, etc.) are contributing to college grads’ relative success. So one shouldn’t interpret this as evidence for the proposition that everyone would be doing better if they had gone to college. But it does show that those with college degrees are doing better than their peers, regardless of age.

Show Comments
Washington Post Subscriptions

Get 2 months of digital access to The Washington Post for just 99¢.

A limited time offer for Apple Pay users.

Buy with
Cancel anytime

$9.99/month after the two month trial period. Sales tax may apply.
By subscribing you agree to our Terms of Service, Digital Products Terms of Sale & Privacy Policy.

Get 2 months of digital access to The Washington Post for just 99¢.

Most Read
Read stories based on reporting for “Trump Revealed,” a broad, comprehensive biography of the life of the president-elect.


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing