© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Recent college grads weathered recession better than their less-educated peers, says study

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 9, 2013 - Recent college graduates who are navigating the stagnant post-recession job market, can take some consolation in a new study by Pew’s Economic Mobility Project that says their newly inked bachelor’s degrees might offer them a greater chance of employment -- and higher earnings – than their less-educated peers.

"When viewed over the 2003 to 2011 time period, which includes the lead-up to the recession and its aftermath, the decline in employment stabilized more quickly for college-educated 21- to 24-year-olds than for their same aged peers with associates or high school degrees,’’ said Pew research manager Diana Elliott.

Although the study found that employment and wages declined for all in that age group, the decline was less severe for those with college educations.

Elliott said the study -- "How Much Protection Does A College Degree Afford?” -- looked at that specific age group to shed light on the experience of recent graduates who lack job experience. You can read the entire report here.

Among the findings:

  • Before the recession, 55 percent of 21- to 24-year-olds with high school diplomas were employed, compared to 70 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees and 64 percent of those with associate degrees. During the recession, the gap grew: Employment declined 16 percent for those who had stopped their education after high school, by 11 percent for those with associate degrees and by 7 percent for those with BA degrees.
  • Wages decreased for the entire age group, but the decline was greater for those without four-year degrees: 5 percent for grads with BAs, compared to 12 and 10 percent for those with associate degrees and high school diplomas.

Elliott noted what she referred to as a surprising finding: The share of non-working graduates seeking more education did not change during the recession. In other words, they did not necessarily enroll in school because they were not working.
"Overall, recent college graduates experienced slight declines in employment rates, slight declines in the desirability of their jobs and slight declines in their wages as a consequence of the recession. But these declines were less substantial than those experienced by their less credentialed counterparts,’’ Elliott said.

She noted that past research has already shown the power of a postsecondary education for promoting upward mobility, particularly from the bottom rungs.

"Despite the recession and the labor market outcomes that individuals experienced, a college degree still offers a great deal of potential for upward mobility. And it certainly helps individuals weather many of the negative labor market outcomes that those with associates or high school degrees have experienced,” Elliott said.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.