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Unemployment rates by educational attainment


Economists and noneconomists alike have long recognized the value of a college degree—or at least some post-secondary education. Although some people do quite well with only a high school degree, many so-called “blue collar” trades like plumbing, carpentry, automotive mechanics, and manufacturing require additional schooling beyond high school. Each month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports four separate unemployment rates by educational attainment for those persons at least 25 years old: (i) those with less than a high school education, (ii) those with a high school education but no college, (iii) high school graduates with some college or an associate’s degree, and (iv) those with a bachelor’s degree and higher. These series, which are plotted in this FRED chart, are derived from the Current Population Survey, which surveys approximately 60,000 U.S. households. The chart reveals the importance of educational attainment in several ways. First, those with a college degree or some kind of post-secondary education have much lower average unemployment rates than those with a high school diploma or less. In February 2014, the average unemployment rate for a college graduate was 3.4 percent; for those without a high school degree, the average unemployment rate was 9.8 percent. (In February 2014, the total unemployment rate averaged across all education attainments was 6.7 percent.) Second, the effects of a slowing economy and recessions tend to affect the less-educated first. Third, recessions have the largest adverse labor-market effects on the less educated. Peak unemployment rates for those with less than a high school education are much higher than all others across time. Finally, the most recent recession caused the average unemployment rate for all educational levels to rise to levels not seen in the previous two episodes (1992 and 2001-2002). But as before, those with a college education were insulated to a larger extent from the worst effects of the recession.

How this graph was created: On the FRED page, click on the “Data Tools” tab at the top. In the box that appears, enter “unemployment by education.” A list of series will pop up. With your cursor, highlight “Unemployment Rate – Less than a High School Diploma, 25 years and older” and then click on the “Add Series” button to the right. To add the other series, click on the “Add Data Series” and repeat the process. (Note: The font size for the titles was reduced to better display the data.)

Suggested by Kevin Kliesen

View on FRED, series used in this post: LNS14027659, LNS14027660, LNS14027689, LNU04027662


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