The US’ job growth imbalance

A new report has shown that the US’ post-recession job growth has almost entirely benefited those with post-high school education


A new study published by Georgetown University has shown that the post-recession employment recovery in the US has been heavily skewed towards those with at least some university-level education.

According to the report, entitled America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots, of the 11.6 million jobs created since the beginning of the post-recession recovery, 11.5 million went to workers with some post-high school education. The study showed that graduate degree holders gained 3.8 million jobs, while bachelor and associate degree holders gained 4.6 million and 3.1 million jobs respectively. At the same time, those with only a high school diploma gained just 80,000 jobs.

This pattern of job recovery has also led to a new landmark in the make up of employment in the US economy. As the report notes: “In 2016, for the first time, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are a larger proportion of the workforce (36 percent) than those with a high school diploma or less (34 percent).” At the same time, those “with more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree, who are typically employed in middle-skill occupations, comprise the remaining 30 percent of the workforce”.

Increasingly, some form of post-high school education is needed to get ahead in the US economy

Employment imbalance
Part of this skewed job recovery is cyclical. As the report notes: “Two of the industries that blue-collar workers with lower education levels historically depended upon for jobs – construction and manufacturing – were especially hard hit in the Great Recession and have not yet fully recovered all the job losses they sustained.” Employment in construction is still 1.6 million jobs below its 2007 level, while manufacturing has one million fewer jobs.

The authors of the report suggest this imbalance in job gains is also indicative of a longer structural change in the nature of the US economy. As the report’s press release summarises: “Production industries, such as manufacturing, construction and natural resources, shifted from employing nearly half of the workforce in 1947 to only 19 percent in 2016.”

At the same time: “Industries that employ managerial and professional workers, such as healthcare, business, financial, education and government services, accounted for 28 percent of the workforce in 1947 and have grown to encompass 46 percent of the workforce today.” These sectors typically require workers with post-high school education qualifications.

Increasingly, some form of post-high school education is needed to get ahead in the US economy. “The modern economy continues to leave Americans without a college education behind”, Anthony P Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown Centre and lead author of the report, was quoted as saying in the report’s press release.

Tamara Jayasundera, Senior Economist at the Georgetown Centre and a co-author of the report, noted in the press release: “While it’s reassuring to see the economy back on track, we can’t ignore this tale of two countries with vastly different economic realities for those with and without a college education… Fewer pathways to the middle class for those with less education will continue to reshape the labour market and American culture as we know it.”