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Career Outlook article page

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Education still pays

September 2014

Note: These data have been updated. The most recent chart is available here.

Unemployment rate and earnings by educational attainment, 2013

Education still pays

Note: Data are for persons age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers and do not include the self-employed.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey


As the cost of higher education continues to climb, prospective students and their families might wonder: “Does it still pay to get an education?” According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Yes, it does.

For decades, BLS data have shown that workers with more education have lower unemployment and higher earnings than workers with less education. And 2013 data are no exception.

For example, as the chart shows, the unemployment rate drops with every additional level of education attained. Workers with less education than a high school diploma had the highest unemployment rate (11 percent), while those with a doctoral degree had the lowest rate (2.2 percent).

Earnings by educational attainment generally follow the opposite pattern, peaking for workers with a professional degree—a group that includes lawyers and dentists—and decreasing as education levels fall. The earnings data in the chart are medians; within each education level, half of workers earned more than the amount shown, and half earned less.

Keep in mind that education alone doesn’t determine your success in the job market. Wages and employment vary based on a number of factors, including occupation, geographic location, and experience. Find out which occupations match your interests, skills, and career goals to determine the level of education that is likely to pay off for you.

These data come from the BLS Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of households that collects information about demographic and labor force characteristics.

Suggested citation:

"Education still pays," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2014.

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