College Degree No Longer Enough

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Here’s an interesting piece of data courtesy The Wall Street Journal:

In the economic expansion that began in 2001 and now appears to be ending, the inflation-adjusted wages of the majority of U.S. workers didn’t grow, even among those who went to college. The government’s statistical snapshots show the typical weekly salary of a worker with a bachelor’s degree, adjusted for inflation, didn’t rise last year from 2006 and was 1.7% below the 2001 level.

The Journal notes that workers with a college degree still make 75% more than those with just a high school diploma, but the wage stagnation is affecting all those with college degrees, from new graduates to those nearing retirement.

Why? Globalization, technological improvements and more educated immigrants have all played a role in making college degrees less valuable. But economists point to this:

The issue isn’t a lack of economic growth, which was solid for most of the 2000s. Rather, it’s that the fruits of growth are flowing largely to a relatively small group of people who have a particular set of skills and assets that lots of other people don’t…In short, a college degree is often necessary, but not sufficient, to get a paycheck that beats inflation.

What’s this mean for those of us who’d like to be better off in four years than we are now? Get specialized. Find what we can offer that few others can. Except that can be rather difficult. We’re not all highly intelligent or extremely creative or fortunate enough to have a prestigious degree that opens more doors. We’re talking about putting a lot more work into working.

The bad news is: we are likely entering an economy that doesn’t support the kind of “live better than my parents did” expectation that we all thought was our birthright during the last half of the 20th Century. The good news is: effort still pays in America. Make yourself valuable and you will be well compensated. Only it’s not so simple as just getting a degree. We’re more on our own now. The trick will be making the transition.