Even in the best of economic times, data show that workers who have higher levels of education typically earn more and have lower rates of unemployment compared with workers who have less education. In the challenging economy created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the data tell a similar story.
The chart highlights differences in 2020 earnings and unemployment rates by education, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Current Population Survey. For example, workers with a bachelor’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,305 in 2020, compared with $781 for workers with a high school diploma. And the unemployment rate for bachelor’s-level workers was 5.5 percent, compared with 9.0 percent for those whose highest level of education was a high school diploma.
Unemployment rates were higher in 2020 than in 2019 at all education levels, as the pandemic caused many workers to lose jobs. Weekly earnings also rose at all levels, but the increases may have been due, in part, to the large number of jobs lost by lower paid workers in 2020—which in turn put upward pressure on the 2020 earnings estimates.
The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey that collects information about the labor force, including age, employment status, and other characteristics. Additional information on earnings, unemployment, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is available from the CPS program.
Visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn about education requirements, pay, and more for hundreds of occupations. A tool on the homepage allows you to select occupations by factors such as entry-level education, median pay, and number of new jobs projected.
Elka Torpey, "Education pays, 2020," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2021.