Marketplace Report: A $23K Bachelor's Advantage

The salary gap in the United States between those who have earned a Bachelor's degree and those with only a high school diploma is estimated to be about $23,000 dollars a year, according to a new federal government report. Bob Moon of Marketplace talks with Madeleine Brand about how statistics have changed in the past decades.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

It's no secret that higher learning means higher earning, but the Census Bureau is out with a new study that shows just how much extra money a college degree can mean.

Marketplace's senior business correspondent Bob Moon joins me now with the details. And Bob, well, it's a good thing, because college education these days is very, very expensive. So it's nice to know that we're actually getting our money's worth. How much more money do you get if you have a college degree?

BOB MOON: Well, the way the Census Bureau figures it, about $23,000 more a year. You know, Madeleine, besides keeping up on the official population count, the Census Bureau collects all kind of other demographic data. And its latest look at education levels in America turn up this tally of how our paychecks are affected by what we've learned. Let me try to give you this in bullet form so you can follow these numbers.

First, what the average college grad makes, then what those with the high school diploma bring in, and then the figure for high school dropouts.

Here's how they all stack up on average. College graduates, roughly $51,000 a year; high school graduates around $28,000 a year; high school dropouts just $19,000 a year. And as you say, the higher the learning, the higher the earning. On top of the extra income that the average college grad earns, those with an advanced college degree add on more than $26,000 a year more than that.

BRAND: And what about - this is a pretty big earnings gap that you just outlined. Is that gap bigger or smaller compared two years past?

MOON: Well, it's narrowed just slightly from five years earlier as the new millennium began. College graduates were able to take in just about double what high school graduates earn. Now it slipped to just a bit below double the earnings potential. Even so, it's still much more beneficial to have a college degree. And it's very clear, the Census Bureau report shows that the differences are significant, both for men and for women, and across every racial and ethnic group.

BRAND: And does the study go into how many Americans now are earning more with college degrees?

MOON: Yeah, the government counts more than a quarter of all American adults, 28 percent overall, who have at least a bachelor's degree now. That compares to about 24 percent back in 2000. And it's a really big rise over the past 35 years. Back in 1970, only 11 percent of Americans had a college degree. By the way, the state with the highest proportion of adults with at least a bachelor's degree was Connecticut, nearly 37 percent. That was followed closely by Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey.

Minnesota, Utah, Montana, New Hampshire and Alaska had the highest proportions of adults with at least a high school diploma, all about 92 percent.

Coming up later today on Marketplace, there aren't many upsides to global warming, but this might be one. Oil and gas companies are trying to exploit global warming by exploring in land that was previously locked in by ice.

BRAND: Thank you, Bob. Bob Moon of Public Radio's daily business show Marketplace, produced by American Public Media.

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