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Labor Force Participation and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment
(Last Updated: May 2014)

In 2013, the unemployment rate for those with at least a bachelor's degree was lower than the rates for those with lower levels of educational attainment. During the most recent economic recession (2008 through 2010), the unemployment rate increased less for those who had at least a bachelor's degree than for those who had less than a bachelor's degree.

In 2013, some 15.2 percent of young adults ages 2024 were unemployed, as were 8.0 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds. The unemployment rates for both of these younger age cohorts were generally higher than the unemployment rate for 25- to 64-year-olds (6.6 percent), which included the subset of 25- to 34-year-olds. This pattern was consistent among individuals with different levels of education. Educational attainment in this indicator refers to the highest level of education achieved (i.e., less than high school completion, high school completion or an equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development [GED] certificate, some college education, or a bachelor's degree or higher). In this indicator, the unemployment rate is defined as the percentage of persons in the civilian labor force who are not working and who made specific efforts to find employment during the prior 4 weeks. The civilian labor force refers to the civilian population who are employed or seeking employment.


Figure 1. Unemployment rates, by age group and educational attainment: 2013

Figure 1. Unemployment rates, by age group and educational attainment: 2013

NOTE: The unemployment rate is the percentage of persons in the civilian labor force who are not working and who made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the prior 4 weeks. The civilian labor force consists of all civilians who are employed or seeking employment. Data for 20- to 24-year-olds exclude persons enrolled in school. High school completion includes equivalency credentials, such as the General Educational Development (GED) credential.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, unpublished annual average data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), 2013. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 501.80.


Between 2000 and 2013, the unemployment rate for individuals without a bachelor's degree was generally higher than the rate for their peers with at least a bachelor's degree. This pattern was consistent for young adults (ages 2024), 25- to 34-year-olds, and 25- to 64-year-olds. In 2013, for example, the unemployment rate for young adults was 29.2 percent for those who did not complete high school, 17.5 percent for those whose highest level of education was high school completion, and 12.2 percent for those with some college education, compared with an unemployment rate of 7.0 percent for those with at least a bachelor's degree. For 25- to 34-year-olds, the unemployment rates for those who did not complete high school (15.1 percent), for those who were high school completers (12.1 percent), and for those with some college education (8.0 percent) were also higher than the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's or higher degree (3.6 percent). This pattern of higher unemployment rates corresponding with lower levels of educational attainment also generally held across males and females for each age group from 2000 to 2013.

In 2013, for young adults ages 2024, there was no measurable difference in the unemployment rate between males and females among those whose highest level of education was less than high school completion, those with some college education, and those with at least a bachelor's degree. However, both the overall unemployment rate and the rate for high school completers were higher for males (16.5 and 19.0 percent, respectively) than for females (13.4 and 15.1 percent, respectively). For 25- to 64-year-olds, both the unemployment rate overall and the rate for high school completers were higher for males (6.9 and 9.2 percent, respectively) than for females (6.3 and 8.1 percent, respectively). The unemployment rate for those who did not complete high school was higher for females than for males (14.1 vs. 11.9 percent). Among individuals ages 2534, the unemployment rate overall was higher for males than for females (8.4 vs. 7.5 percent). However, the unemployment rate for those who did not complete high school was higher for females than for males (19.3 vs. 13.2 percent).


Figure 2. Unemployment rates of persons 20 to 24 years old, by sex and educational attainment: Selected years, 2000 through 2013

Figure 2. Unemployment rates of persons 20 to 24 years old, by sex and educational attainment: Selected years, 2000 through 2013

NOTE: The unemployment rate is the percentage of persons in the civilian labor force who are not working and who made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the prior 4 weeks. The civilian labor force consists of all civilians who are employed or seeking employment. Data for 20- to 24-year-olds exclude persons enrolled in school. High school completion includes equivalency credentials, such as the General Educational Development (GED) credential.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, unpublished annual average data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), selected years, 2000 through 2013. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, tables 501.85 and 501.90.


During the recent economic recession and recovery from 2008 to 2013, the magnitude of change in unemployment rates varied by educational attainment. In general, individuals with at least a bachelor's degree faced a lesser impact on employment from the recession than did high school completers and those who did not complete high school. For young adults ages 2024, the unemployment rates for males and females generally increased from 2008 to 2010 at each level of educational attainment. From 2008 to 2010, the 14.3-percentage-point increase (from 18.2 to 32.4 percent) in the unemployment rate for males who did not complete high school and the 10.5-percentage-point increase (from 13.3 to 23.7 percent) for male high school completers were higher than the 5.1-percentage-point increase (from 4.7 to 9.8 percent) for males with at least a bachelor's degree. For female young adults, the unemployment rate for those who had at least a bachelor's degree did not change measurably between 2008 and 2010. Although the unemployment rate for female young adults increased from 2008 to 2010 for those with some college education (from 6.5 to 12.1 percent), for high school completers (from 12.5 to 19.9 percent), and for those who did not complete high school (from 21.6 to 32.2 percent), these unemployment rate increases across educational attainment levels were not measurably different from each other.

As the economy was recovering from 2010 to 2013, unemployment rates for young adults did not change measurably within any of the educational attainment levels for either males or females, with the exception of both male and female young adult high school completers. The unemployment rates for male and female high school completers were lower in 2013 (19.0 and 15.1 percent, respectively) than in 2010 (23.7 and 19.9 percent, respectively). Compared with 2008, when the recession started, the unemployment rates for both male and female young adults who did not complete high school and the rates for both males and females with some college education were higher in 2013. The unemployment rate for male young adults who did complete high school was also higher in 2013: some 19.0 percent were unemployed in 2013, compared with 13.3 percent in 2008. However, for male and female young adults with a bachelor's or higher degree the 2013 unemployment rate was not measurably different from the rate in 2008. In addition, the 2013 unemployment rate for female young adults who completed high school was not measurably different from the 2008 rate.


Figure 3. Unemployment rates of persons 25 to 64 years old, by sex and educational attainment: Selected years, 2000 through 2013

Figure 3. Unemployment rates of persons 25 to 64 years old, by sex and educational attainment: Selected years, 2000 through 2013

NOTE: The unemployment rate is the percentage of persons in the civilian labor force who are not working and who made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the prior 4 weeks. The civilian labor force consists of all civilians who are employed or seeking employment. High school completion includes equivalency credentials, such as the General Educational Development (GED) credential.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, unpublished annual average data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), selected years, 2000 through 2013. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, tables 501.85 and 501.90.


As was the case for male young adults ages 2024, unemployment rates for both male and female 25- to 64-year-olds also increased from 2008 to 2010 at each level of educational attainment. The increase in the unemployment rate from 2008 to 2010 was higher for both males and females who did not complete high school, who did complete high school, and who had some college education than for both males and females who had at least a bachelor's degree. From 2008 to 2010, for 25- to 64-year-olds the unemployment rate increased 6.9 percentage points (from 10.9 to 17.8 percent) for males who did not complete high school, 7.5 percentage points (from 6.3 to 13.8 percent) for male high school completers, and 6.0 percentage points (from 4.2 to 10.2 percent) for males with some college education, whereas the rate increased 3.1 percentage points (from 2.0 to 5.1 percent) for males with at least a bachelor's degree. During the same period, the unemployment rate increases were 6.5 percentage points (from 8.5 to 15.0 percent) for females who did not complete high school, 4.8 percentage points (from 5.1 to 9.8 percent) for female high school completers, and 3.3 percentage points (from 4.2 to 7.5 percent) for females with some college education, compared with an increase of 2.2 percentage points (from 2.1 to 4.3 percent) for females with at least a bachelor's degree. From 2010 to 2013, unemployment rates for 25- to 64-year-old males decreased at each level of educational attainment: the decreases were 5.9 percentage points (from 17.8 to 11.9 percent) for males who did not complete high school, 4.6 percentage points (from 13.8 to 9.2 percent) for male high school completers, 3.7 percentage points (from 10.2 to 6.5 percent) for males with some college education, and 1.4 percentage points (from 5.1 to 3.7 percent) for males with at least a bachelor's degree. From 2010 to 2013, unemployment rates for 25- to 64-year-old females decreased at each level of educational attainment except for those who did not complete high school. The unemployment rate decreased 1.8 percentage points (from 9.8 to 8.1 percent) for female high school completers, 1.1 percentage points (from 7.5 to 6.4 percent) for females with some college education, and 0.5 percentage points (from 4.3 to 3.8 percent) for females with at least a bachelor's degree. Nevertheless, unemployment rates in 2013 remained higher than they had been in 2008 for both male and female 25- to 64-year-olds at each level of educational attainment, except for males who did not complete high school.


Figure 4. Unemployment rates of persons 25 to 34 years old, by sex and educational attainment: Selected years, 2000 through 2013

Figure 4. Unemployment rates of persons 25 to 34 years old, by sex and educational attainment: Selected years, 2000 through 2013

NOTE: The unemployment rate is the percentage of persons in the civilian labor force who are not working and who made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the prior 4 weeks. The civilian labor force consists of all civilians who are employed or seeking employment. High school completion includes equivalency credentials, such as the General Educational Development (GED) credential.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, unpublished annual average data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), selected years, 2000 through 2013. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, tables 501.85 and 501.90.


For 25- to 34-year-olds, the change in unemployment rates from 2008 to 2010 followed a pattern similar to that of the change in unemployment rates for 25- to 64-year-olds. For example, from 2008 to 2010 the unemployment rate increases were 9.3 percentage points (from 8.5 to 17.8 percent) for male high school completers and 6.8 percentage points (from 5.0 to 11.8 percent) for males with some college education, compared with a 2.7-percentage-point increase (from 2.1 to 4.8 percent) for males with at least a bachelor's degree. Among females, from 2008 to 2010 the unemployment rate increased 6.7 percentage points (from 12.8 to 19.5 percent) for those who did not complete high school and 4.3 percentage points (from 5.1 to 9.3 percent) for those with some college education, compared with a 2.0-percentage-point increase (from 2.3 to 4.3 percent) for females with at least a bachelor's degree. The unemployment rate was lower in 2013 than in 2010 for males with some college education (8.5 vs. 11.8 percent), males who were high school completers (11.8 vs. 17.8 percent), and males who had not finished high school (13.2 vs. 20.7 percent). The unemployment rate was lower in 2013 than in 2010 for females with at least a bachelor's degree (3.3 vs. 4.3 percent) and females with some college education (7.4 vs. 9.3 percent). For both male and female 25- to 34-year-olds, the unemployment rate remained higher in 2013 than in 2008, except for males who did not complete high school.


Glossary terms: Bachelor's degree, Educational attainment, High school completer
Data Source: Current Population Survey (CPS)


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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education