For the first time ever, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher account for a larger share of the American workforce than those with a high school diploma or less, a new report shows.
Workers with more than a high school diploma now comprise 36 percent of the workforce, compared to 34 percent of workers without any college education and 30 percent with some college, according to the report from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Since 2010, 95 percent of the 11.6 million jobs created in the economic recovery have gone to workers with at least some college education, Georgetown researchers found.
The trend reflects structural changes in the labor market driven by mass automation, outsourcing, and rapid globalization that have dramatically reduced the number of blue-collar professions that do not require at least some post-secondary education, according to Jason Eckert, director of career services at the University of Dayton.
“The workforce has become more and more high-tech, complicated, and in some ways position that maybe 50 years ago did not require a college degree, now do,” Eckert said.
The trend displaced millions of less-educated lower- and middle-class Ohioans who didn’t have the educational background to fully participate in the jobs recovery from the 2007-2008 recession, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center and lead author of the center’s report.
“The modern economy continues to leave Americans without a college education behind,” Carnevale said. “For decades, we’ve witnessed this growing split that parallels the divide in the current electorate.”
Carnevale was referring to populous movements on both sides of the political isle that have helped propel Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders to national prominence.
Poll after poll shows most U.S. workers simply don’t think the U.S. economy is working for them, especially in states like Ohio, where the recession decimated blue-collar and clerical jobs in the Dayton area and elsewhere.
By contrast, the recovery has added primarily high-skill managerial and professional jobs requiring higher levels of education.
According to the Georgetown study, management added the largest number of jobs of any occupation since the recession began (1.6 million), and health care professional and technical occupations added the second most jobs (1.5 million).
Production industries, such as manufacturing, construction — the backbone of Ohio’s economy — have shifted from employing nearly half of the workforce in 1947 to only 19 percent in 2016, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.
“For a lot of blue-collar workers, the kinds of skills that employers need today just don’t match the kinds of skills they have,” said Bill Even, an economics professor and labor market expert at Miami University. “A lot of what’s been going on is technological change, and manufacturing is one of the most obvious places where new technology means manufacturers can get the job done with fewer workers, and workers have to be more skilled.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean workers need to earn a four-year degree to land a good job, Even said.
“There are a lot of technical schools, vocational schools and so on that provide skills that allow people to get good-paying jobs,” he said, referring to jobs as computer technicians and welders as examples. “In a lot of cases, people can get high-paying and middle-income jobs with a couple of years of vocational training.”
Still, four-year degree holders have seen the greatest gains in employment since the recession.
Overall, workers with bachelor’s degrees have gained 4.6 million jobs since the recession, graduate degree holders gained 3.8 million jobs, and associate’s degree holders gained 3.1 million jobs. That compares to workers with a high school diploma or less, who added only 80,000 jobs, according to the Georgetown report.
“Working in the industry, I certainly believe in the value of having a college degree,” UD’s Eckert said. “Healthcare, IT, engineering, business. Even in some of the more customer-facing industries we have in the Miami Valley, most of those jobs are requiring a college degree.”