SWPA 2016: College No Longer Guarantees Rising Wages—Degree Holders Need Agenda to Raise PA’s Pay Too

The post below is one of a series of posts about specific trends examined in the recently-released annual edition of The State of Working Pennsylvania.

We’ve already laid out how Pennsylvania men without a college degree have not shared in Pennsylvania's economic gains over the past few decades and how women without a college degree are still playing catch up. What about Pennsylvanians with a college degree, though?

For years, having a bachelor’s degree was the key to unlocking jobs with rising wages. Up until 2000, male college graduates in Pennsylvania fared better than those without a four-year college degree when it came to increasing wages. Hourly earnings climbed for white and black men with at least a bachelor’s degree by 23 percent and 14 percent respectively between 1979-81 and 2000-02.

Since 2000-02, though, the hourly earnings of white men with at least a bachelor’s degree have fallen $1.50 per hour or $3,200 for a full-time worker. Black workers with a bachelor’s or higher have seen their hourly earnings fall $2.18 or $4,500 for a full-time worker.

Beyond that, the data shows that a college degree does not protect minority men against racial gaps in earnings: in the most recent three-year period, black and Hispanic men with a college degree made 78 and 81 cents for every dollar a white man made with the same level of education.

For women with at least a bachelor’s degree, the story is one of long-term improvement, but a significant pay gap remains.

Real hourly earnings for white and black women with a college degree or better climbed 41 percent and 39 percent respectively between 1979-81 and 2000-02.

Since 2000-02, however, the wages of white women with at least a bachelor’s degree have fallen by 1 percent.  And, most alarming, the data shows that female black college graduates have fared substantially worse, absorbing a 22 percent decline in hourly earnings since 2000-02.

In the most recent three-year period, the wage gap is significant; white female college graduates made 78 cents for every dollar a similarly-educated white male earned. Female black and Hispanic college graduates made only 65 cents and 49 cents, respectively, of similarly-educated white men. 

There is no question that earning a bachelor’s degree significantly increases lifetime earnings and opens up job market opportunities, but to understand the shifting economy, it’s critical to know that earnings for those with a college degree or higher have fallen off in the last 15 plus years. This underscores the fact that the economic gains of the last few decades have only been realized by those at the very top, and blue collar and white collar workers alike are not sharing in the prosperity.


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