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Employment rates of college graduates

Question:
What information do you have on the employment rates of college graduates?

Response:

This Fast Fact examines recent trends in two distinct yet related measures of labor market conditions—the employment rate and the unemployment rate. The employment rate (also known as the employment to population ratio) is the number of persons in a given group who are employed as a percentage of the civilian population in that group. The unemployment rate is the percentage of persons in the civilian labor force (i.e., all civilians who are employed or seeking employment) who are not working and who made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the prior 4 weeks. Both the employment and unemployment rates exclude 20- to 24-year-olds (also referred to as “young adults” in this Fast Fact) who are enrolled in school. Trends in the unemployment rate reflect net changes in the relative number of people who are looking for work, while the employment rate reflects whether the economy is generating jobs relative to population growth in a specific age group.

In 2016, the employment rate was higher for those with higher levels of educational attainment. For example, the employment rate was highest for young adults with a bachelor’s or higher degree (88 percent). The employment rate for young adults with some college1 (77 percent) was higher than the rate for those who had completed high school2 (69 percent), which was, in turn, higher than the employment rate for those who had not finished high school (48 percent). This pattern of a positive relationship between employment rates and educational attainment was also seen for 25- to 64-year-olds (also referred to as “older adults” in this Fast Fact).


Employment rates of 20- to 24-year-olds, by sex and educational attainment: 2016

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

NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities); this figure includes data only on the civilian population (excludes all military personnel). For each group presented, the employment rate, or employment to population ratio, is the number of persons in that group who are employed as a percentage of the civilian population in that group. Data exclude persons enrolled in school. “Some college, no bachelor’s degree“ includes persons with an associate’s degree. “High school completion” includes equivalency credentials, such as the GED.


From December 2007 through June 2009, the U.S. economy experienced a recession.3 For young adults, the employment rate was lower in 2008, near the beginning of the recession, than it was in 2000, prior to the recession (73 vs. 77 percent). The employment rate was even lower in 2010 (65 percent), after the end of the recession, than it was in 2008. While the employment rate for young adults was higher in 2016 (72 percent) than in 2010 (65 percent), the 2016 rate was lower than the rate in 2000 (77 percent) and not measurably different from the rate in 2008 (73 percent). During these years, patterns in the employment rate for young adults varied by educational attainment. For young adults who had not completed high school, the employment rate in 2016 (48 percent) was lower than in 2000 (61 percent) and 2008 (55 percent), but not measurably different from the rate in 2010. For young adults with a bachelor’s or higher degree, the employment rate in 2016 (88 percent) was not measurably different from the rates in 2000, 2008, and 2010. For older adults, the overall employment rate in 2016 (74 percent) was lower than in 2000 (78 percent) and 2008 (76 percent), but higher than in 2010 (72 percent). This pattern was also found among older adults who had a bachelor’s or higher degree and those with some college.


1In this Fast Fact, “some college” includes those who have attended college, but did not obtain a bachelor’s degree. This includes those who have completed an associate’s degree for all years except 2001 and 2002. In 2001 and 2002, “some college, no degree” and “associate’s degree” data were collected separately.

2Includes equivalency credentials, such as the GED.

3 See http://www.nber.org/cycles.html.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). The Condition of Education 2016 (NCES 2017-144), Employment and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment.

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