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Income of young adults

Question:
What is the average income for young adults?

Response:

This Fast Fact examines the annual earnings of 25- to 34-year-olds who worked full time, year round (i.e., worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks per year). Many people in this age group recently exited formal education. They may be entering the workforce for the first time or transitioning from part-time to full-time work. In 2020, some 66 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the labor force1 worked full time, year round. This percentage was generally higher for those with higher levels of educational attainment. Levels of educational attainment refer to the highest levels of education attained. For example, 73 percent of labor force participants with a bachelorís degree worked full time, year round in 2020, compared with 60 percent of those who completed high school2 in this age group.

Changes over time in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds in the labor force who worked full time, year round varied by level of educational attainment.3 Among those with an associateís degree, the percentage who worked full time, year round was lower in 2020 (62 percent) than in 2010 (66 percent), although there was no consistent pattern of change throughout the period. In contrast, the percentage increased between 2010 and 2020 among those with a masterís or higher degree (from 74 to 77 percent). For other attainment levels, the percentages were not measurably different between 2010 and 2020. In 2020, the percentages who worked full time, year round were 49 percent among those who completed less than high school, 60 percent among those who completed high school, 58 percent among those with some college but no degree, and 73 percent among those with a bachelorís degree.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought major disruptions to American society, which had a direct impact on jobs and employment. Therefore, it is important not only to examine the longer-term trends but also to consider the difference between employment data in 2020 and 2019, the year immediately before the pandemic. Compared with the 2019 percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds working full time, year round, the 2020 percentage was lower at most individual levels of educational attainment. The one exception was for those with a masterís or higher degree, where there was no measurable difference between the percentages in these two years. The drop from 2019 to 2020 was larger for all attainment levels below a bachelorís degree than for those with a bachelorís or higher degree. For example, in 2020, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds working full time, year round who completed less than high school (49 percent) was 16 percentage points lower than in 2019 (65 percent). The percentage for those with a bachelorís degree in 2020 (73 percent) was 6 percentage points lower than in 2019 (79 percent).

For 25- to 34-year-olds who worked full time, year round, higher educational attainment was associated with higher median earnings. This pattern was consistent for each year from 2010 through 2020. For example, in 2020, the median earnings of those with a masterís or higher degree were $69,700, some 17 percent higher than the earnings of those with a bachelorís degree ($59,600). In the same year, the median earnings of those with a bachelorís degree were 63 percent higher than the earnings of those who completed high school ($36,600). The median earnings of those who completed high school were 23 percent higher than the earnings of those who completed less than high school ($29,800). This pattern of higher earnings associated with higher levels of educational attainment held for both males and females, as well as for those who were White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian.4


Median annual earnings of full-time, year-round workers ages 25–34, by educational attainment: 2010 through 2020

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

1 Includes equivalency credentials, such as the GED.

NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities) and military barracks. Full-time, year-round workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks per year. Earnings are presented in constant 2020 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), to eliminate inflationary factors and to allow for direct comparison across years. Caution should be used when comparing 2019 and 2020 estimates to those of earlier years due to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on interviewing and response rates. For additional information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement data collection, please see https://www2.census.gov/ programs-surveys/cps/techdocs/cpsmar21.pdf.


1 The labor force consists of all civilians who are employed or seeking employment. Some 85 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds were in the labor force in both 2019 and 2020.

2 Refers to those with only a high school diploma or an equivalency credential such as a GED.

3 Caution should be used when comparing 2019 and 2020 estimates to those of earlier years due to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on interviewing and response rates. For additional information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement data collection, please see https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/techdocs/cpsmar20.pdf.

4 Data for other racial/ethnic groups were not analyzed separately.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Annual Earnings by Educational Attainment. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cba.

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