The millennials — born after 1980 — are the best-educated generation in history. By early adulthood, a third have college degrees, and those degrees help them earn more than ever before. So scholars at the Pew Research Center were puzzled when they found that the median, inflation-adjusted income of 25- to 32-year-olds had changed very little since 1965.
The reason, they discovered, is that even though a college degree is worth more, a high school degree alone is worth a lot less. Its value, in terms of wages, has declined enough to cancel out almost all the gains by all the millennials who have earned four-year degrees.
From 1965 to 2013, according to a new Pew report called “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” the typical high school graduate’s earnings fell more than 10 percent, after inflation.
“That is one of the great economic stories of our era, which you could define as income inequality,” said Paul Taylor, an author of the report. “The leading suspects are the digital economy and the globalization of labor markets. Both of them place a higher premium on the knowledge-based part of the work force and have the effect of drying up the opportunities for good middle-class jobs, particularly for those that don’t have an education.”